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.

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In the 19th century there were two seemingly opposing influences in the world of music. First, the growing tide of Romantic Nationalism was sweeping the Western world as each people group sought ways to express and preserve their cultural identity. Second, the power of the music from the 18th century, especially of the German masters Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, had been burned into the collective consciousness. In Russia, these two forces met in the music of Mikhail Glinka and a group of composers we call “The Russian Five”.

Music is one of the ways that we define ourselves.

Beginning around the 19th century, we’re able to think about composers not along lines of genre or form but along lines of nationality. 

Timeline: Viva Verdi

Jun 13, 2016
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A month after Giuseppe Verdi’s death in January of 1901, there was a public procession as his remains were delivered to the “House of Rest” in Milan. Around 300,000 mourners gathered to pay tribute to an opera composer and to hear a rousing version of “Va, pensiero” from Nabucco sung by a choir of 820 voices lead by legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini. Verdi’s music had struck a chord in all of Italy, becoming the soundtrack for a political movement called the Risorgimento.

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Early 19th century Italian opera was dominated by the works of the three “E’s”; Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini. But if there is one composer whose work stands on par with Mozart and Wagner in the operatic repertoire, it’s Giuseppe Verdi.

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Johannes Brahms was first introduced to the world through the writings of Robert Schumann who praised his gifts so highly that many expected Brahms to be Beethoven’s natural successor. Brahms spent the better part of his career under the shadow of his hero. This pressure wasn’t just external. Brahms was his own worst critic and often wrote his friends about his desire to live up to the music of Beethoven. As a result, Brahms’ “1st Symphony” took over 20 years to complete.

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In September of 1895 the Meningen Music Festival in Germany dedicated over two weeks of performances to the music of three composers, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Brahms was 62 years old at the time; so could you possibly imagine a greater honor for a living composer? It’s completely fitting that the music of Johannes Brahms would be included in that line of prestigious and influential German composers. His music walked the line between tradition and the Romantic ideals of the 19th century.

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19th century Germany was not a hospitable environment for female composers. Nevertheless, Clara Weick-Schumann left an indelible mark with her compositions, her soulful musicianship, her inspired instruction and her influence on many major composers of her generation.

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Robert Schumann is one of the central figures of the Romantic Era. Not only did he make important contributions to the piano, art song and orchestral repertoire, he was also a celebrated musical journalist whose prose and poetry influenced the music of a generation.

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The music of Richard Wagner marked a growing “crisis” in Romantic harmony marked by the so called, "Tristan Chord". This is the opening harmony of the prelude to Wagner’s 1859 opera Tristan and Isolde. Never before has one group of four notes rocked the musical world so completely.

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It only takes a few notes to recognize the main theme of John William's score to the film “Star Wars." The Star Wars franchise has become a cultural touchstone all around the world. The original 1977 film is a marriage of a universal mythological tale, told with fantastic artistry.

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Even mentioning the name Wagner spawns a dramatic response. He’s one of those figures that’s either loved or hated. It’s been said that more ink has been spilt on the works and life of Richard Wagner than almost another composer. His operas and his essays, his philosophy and his spirit, stand as pillars of German Romanticism.

Timeline: Franz Liszt

Apr 11, 2016
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When I say the words “rock star," what comes to your mind? Perhaps you picture guitars, stadiums and teeming mobs of adoring fans flocking to their favorite band or musician. In many ways, composer and pianist Franz Liszt was Europe’s first “rock star." 

His fans, mostly women, would rush the stage at his performances desperate to grab a bit of his clothes or a lock of his long hair. One writer actually called the phenomenon, “Lisztomania."

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The modern piano is a masterpiece of acoustic design and engineering; 88 keys with the ability to play all of the notes a musician could possibly reach simultaneously, and a sound that can fill a concert hall by itself. Inside, the metal frame is holding 18 tons of tension as the strings are struck over and over again by large hammers. Each key triggers a complex mechanism allowing the performer to easily control the volume of the note simply by touch. We see and hear the piano so often that we’ve forgotten just how unique an instrument this keyboard has become.

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In the Romantic Era, composers were no longer employees of the aristocracy; they composed for the people. This freedom was doubled-edged. Although it allowed the artistic genius of Berlioz, Liszt and Wagner to flourish, it also spawned a generation of composers who happily wrote crowd pleasing, disposable works for commercial success. Composers like Frederic Chopin rejected this “popularization” of music altogether by retreating from public performance and refusing to compromise his emerging artistic style. Ironically, Chopin’s music became (and has remained) extremely popular.

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For the first 50 years after his death, the majority of J.S. Bach’s music remained unpublished and unperformed.  The 19th century saw an unprecedented return to his music in what we call “The Bach Revival."

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Felix Mendelssohn had natural artistic talent to spare. He was a painter, poet, pianist and composer who not only left the world an impressive body of work but also helped revive the music of the past for generations to come.

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Hector Berlioz was passionate about music, love and literature. He was brash and opinionated, isolating others and ultimately himself. Although he was unappreciated during his lifetime, today he stands as the quintessential French Romantic composer of the 19th Century.

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Franz Schubert lived to be only 31 years old, but he left behind more than a lifetime’s worth of music. Schubert wrote over 600 songs, numerous chamber and symphonic works. Even his unfinished 8th symphony has become a staple in our modern concert halls, quite impressive for a composer who had very little exposure while he was alive.

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Italian opera was in severe decline in the first decade of the 19th Century. However, thanks to the works of composers like Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini, a new golden age was about to dawn. The brightest star of this new operatic style was Gioachino Rossini.

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Beethoven loomed so large in early 19th Century Germany that other composers are often overlooked. One prime example is Carl Maria von Weber, a founder of the Romantic Movement.

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