James Stewart

VPR Classical Host

James Stewart is VPR Classical's afternoon classical host. As a composer, he is interested in many different genres of music; writing for rock bands, symphony orchestras and everything in between.

James received a Bachelor of Science in Music with an emphasis in Composition from Toccoa Falls College in Northeast Georgia in 2001. In 2007, James earned his Master's of Music in Composition from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. There he also made connections with the Open Dream Ensemble, an outreach arm of UNCSA and the Kenan Institute for the Arts.

James wrote original music for five children's shows and spent three years as music director, tour manager, and company member. In 2014, James received his Doctorate of Musical Arts from The Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. James is currently living in Burlington, Vermont with his wife, Meredith and two sons, Jeremiah and Isaac.

Every morning, for more than 75 years, American composer Elliott Carter would awaken and go to his studio to write music. Carter and his wife, Helen Frost-Jones, lived in the same apartment in Greenwich Village in New York, since 1945. He was one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century, composing over 40 works after the age of 90. Carter’s music encompasses many of the influences and styles that shaped the last 100 years of music.

James Stewart / VPR

Musical labels are useful. The title of a genre or style comes in handy in the record store, on the radio or for streaming services. But these labels can also be problematic and divisive.

James Stewart

In 1952, on a summer day in Woodstock, New York, pianist David Tudor held an outdoor recital of contemporary piano music. During this concert he premiered a new work by composer John Cage. For this performance, Tudor sat at the piano with the lid closed, keys covered for 4 minutes and 33 seconds, split into 3 movements. The results of this performance are still controversial to this day.

U.S. Public Domain

In the second half of the 20th century, technology evolved at an ever-increasing pace. The ability to capture a performance and manipulate recorded sound allowed musicians, artists and composers a freedom that they had never experienced before. It all started with the advent and adoption of magnetic tape.

U.S. Public Domain

As a composer, Aaron Copland desired to be as American in his music as Mussorgsky and Stravinsky were Russian. He was always interested in expressing his Inscape, the true emotions happening within him. His writings, music and instruction helped bring the rigor of the European tradition to American music and influenced a generation of composers.

U.S. Public Domain

His life embodied the American dream. Starting from nothing, he used his talents and musical intuition to build a fortune and an international reputation. George Gershwin’s music touched a diverse array of audiences and forms, from popular song to concerti to opera. In his short life he helped shape the future of American music.

U.S. Public Domain

The modern American musical is usually associated with the “triple threat”, singing, dancing and acting. It is also the culmination of costume and set design utilizing resources and technology that would make Wagner jealous. The line that connects operas to musicals is a complicated one, influenced by shifting cultural tastes, commercial enterprise and a wide ocean.

U.S. Public Domain

Aaron Copland, Jean Franciax, Elliot Carter, Philipp Glass and Quincy Jones; what do all of these musicians have in common? They were all students of Nadia Boulanger. Nadia was a composer, conductor and teacher. For seven decades, out of her family’s flat in Paris, she taught some of the most influential composers of the 20th century.

U.S. Public Domain

Ralph Vaughan Williams spent 60 years in the public eye as a composer, conductor, professor and writer. His work set off a renaissance of English music in the 20th century.

U.S. Public Domain

Russian composer, Dmitri Shostakovich saw himself a Soviet man first and a composer second. He felt that it was his duty to compose music for his countrymen that reflected the heart of the Soviet ideal. He left behind 15 symphonies and 15 string quartets that stand as some of the most influential works of the 20th century.

U.S. Public Domain

As World War II began to rage across Europe and the Pacific, communication technology had spread to most of the world. Radio and recording allowed a unified soundtrack of the conflict shared across continents and oceans. Both sides of the war began to practice the art of propaganda in an effort to inspire their people or demoralize their enemies. Music played an important role in this effort to control the hearts of the populace as each country strove to find their musical voice during the war.

U.S. Public Domain

When he heard harmony, he saw color. Olivier Messiaen was not just a visionary composer; he was an organist, an ornithologist and a professor of world-wide acclaim. He was influenced by Ancient Greek theory, Hindu and Japanese culture, his own Roman Catholic faith and the songs of his feathered friends. His music stands as a pillar of the avant-garde in the 20th century.

U.S. Public Domain

Today, music is everywhere. Invisible signals fly through the air carrying every possible genre and style that a person could ever want. We can access them from our homes, cars and phones enjoying content from around the world. In the 19th century this type of technology was just a dream in the minds of scientists and inventors, but the 20th century saw an explosion of communication and the rise of a device we call the radio.

U.S. Public Domain

German composer, Paul Hindemith was a central figure in music and music theory in the 20th century, especially in the period between the wars. His music, teaching methods and theoretical treatises influenced a generation of composers.

U.S. Public Domain

In previous centuries there were prevailing styles and forms of music. The Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras have their own set of conventions that composers followed. But the 20th century saw fragmentation as composers reacted and counter-reacted to the artistic expressions around them. Neoclassism is an example of such a reaction.

U.S. Public Domain

Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf is an excellent example of the Russian composer’s style; modernist harmonic expression with accessible melodies and familiar forms. His life though, was far from a fairytale and chronicles the volatile changes in Russia and the world in the first half of the 20th century.

U.S. Public Domain

June 28, 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a Yugoslav nationalist. This incident quickly escalated into one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history. The Great War, or World War I, saw the rise of revolutions and the death of 9 million soldiers and 7 million civilians. The philosophy, technology and geography of the world were forever altered. The world of music was also affected as composers served in battle and sought to express their patriotism and also the true human cost of the conflict.

U.S. Public Domain

In music, there have been defining moments that change the world. A single piece, even a single performance, sends shock waves through the entire art form and suddenly things are never the same. The 1913 premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring was one such moment.

U.S. Public Domain

No other composer in recent history was able to adapt to the changing styles of his time like Igor Stravinsky. He was a composer of international acclaim with ties to Russia, Switzerland, Germany, France and even Hollywood. During his long life he saw war, revolution and dynamic shifts in artistic expression. Nevertheless, he was always in touch with his own compositional voice. His music of any style or genre sounds like Stravinsky.

Timeline: Bela Bartok

Nov 14, 2016
U.S. Public Domain

Bela Bartok was a composer, pianist and musicologist. He was so devoted to his studies and artistic pursuits that he stated, “If I would cross myself I would say ‘in the name of Nature, Art and Science.’” His compositions had both a nationalistic fervor and an adventurous spirit, pushing the boundaries of music in the 20th century.

Pages