James O’Donnell is Organist and Master of the Choristers of Westminster Abbey and, since January 2011, President of the Royal College of Organists. He is internationally recognised as a conductor and organ recitalist. He studied the organ with Peter Hurford, Nicolas Kynaston and David Sanger. He has appeared in concert all over the world, including the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and throughout Europe, together with concerts in the Royal Festival Hall, the BBC Proms, and many others. His recent schedule has included recitals in Paris, Cologne, Zagreb, Moscow, Canada and the United States. He was a featured artist at the American Guild of Organists’ National Convention in Chicago in 2006, and in 2008 made a solo appearance playing Messiaen’s Messe de la Pentecôte at the BBC Proms.
James O’Donnell studied as a junior exhibitioner at the Royal College of Music and then at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he was organ scholar, before being appointed Assistant Master of Music, and then, at the age of twenty-six, Master of Music, at Westminster Cathedral. His work over the next twelve years with the Cathedral Choir, especially its many recordings, was highly acclaimed, and it was the first such choir to win the Gramophone ‘Record of the Year’ award (for its Hyperion recording of masses by Frank Martin and Pizzetti in 1998) and the first choir to win a Royal Philharmonic Society award (1999).
In January 2000 James O’Donnell took up his present appointment as Organist and Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey. He is responsible for the direction of the Abbey’s music, both at the daily choral services and the many national occasions which take place there. He directs the Choir of Westminster Abbey in its programme of concerts, broadcasts, recordings and tours, which in recent years have included visits to the Far East, the United States, Australia, Denmark, Germany, Russia and Spain. The Choir’s celebrated series of Hyperion recordings has attracted critical approbation and an international following. The Abbey Choir’s latest disc, of Music from the Reign of King James I, was released in February 2011.
James O’Donnell has worked with many of the country’s leading orchestras and ensembles as soloist and director, and in 2004 was appointed Associate Music Director of St James’s Baroque. He is Visiting Professor of Organ at the Royal Academy of Music and was elected to Honorary Membership of the Academy in 2002. In 1999 he was awarded the papal honour of Knight Commander of the Order of St Gregory in recognition of his work at Westminster Cathedral. In 2009 he was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal College of Music. In November 2010 he was Artist in Residence at Yale University. His two-year term of office as President of the Royal College of Organists began in January.