Hailed as “a great organist” displaying “phenomenal technique and sheer musicality” (Bloomberg News), James Kennerley is a multi-faceted musician, working as a conductor, keyboardist, singer, and composer. His performances are known for their illustrious flair and thrilling virtuosity, subtlety and finesse, drawing on the full resources of the instrument. James’ YouTube performances have enjoyed worldwide popularity and millions of views globally.
Mr. Kennerley was appointed the Municipal Organist of Portland, Maine, by the Mayor in September 2017, following a unanimous vote from the Search Committee and the City Council. He is the eleventh organist to hold the internationally renowned position, following a 27-year tenure by his immediate predecessor, Ray Cornils. Mr. Kennerley's official duties began in January 2018. Together with the Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ, the Municipal Organist position is one of the most prominent and significant for the promotion of the organ, its music, and the many educational and outreach opportunities it enables.
In July 2017, Mr. Kennerley was named Music Director of Ars Musica Chorale, an 80-voice choral society, and the New Jersey State Children's Chorus, Ridgewood, NJ's leading choir for young voices. Ars Musica Chorale was founded in 1965 and has become the area's premiere choral group, presenting major works from the choral literature with orchestra, as well as boasting a young artist program and a commitment to the commissioning and performance of new choral works.
Mr. Kennerley made his Carnegie Hall solo début in 2016 with the celebrated ensemble the Sejong Soloists. Performances this season include concerts at Alice Tully Hall, the Frick Collection, the Metropolitan Museum’s MetLiveArts series, and in the Lincoln Center White Light festival. He has also given concerts at Washington National Cathedral, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Princeton University, the Royal Albert Hall, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and other major venues throughout the United States and Europe. Mr. Kennerley was a prizewinner at the 2008 Albert Schweitzer International Organ Competition, and a finalist at the inaugural (2013) Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition.
Mr. Kennerley is frequently in demand as a performer and educator in this regard, and his trademark improvisations are frequent highlight of his versatile concert programming. The late John Scott (former Director of Music at Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue) deemed him one of the finest improvisers of his generation.
A recognized specialist in the realm of early music, Mr. Kennerley has collaborated with William Christie, Richard Egarr, Nicholas McGegan, Christopher Hogwood, Monica Huggett, Julian Wachner, Gary Thor Wedow, among others. He has given solo harpsichord concerts throughout the United States and Europe to great acclaim. A longtime member of NYC-based early music ensemble, Sonnambula, Mr. Kennerley recently recorded virtuosic works for harpsichord by sixteenth-century English composer John Bull, released on Centaur Records. Sonnambula is ensemble in residence with the Metropolitan Museum Art for the 2018-2019 season. He is also a member of New Vintage Baroque, a cutting-edge ensemble dedicated to the performance of early music and contemporary repertoire.
A prize-winning composer, he specializes in music for organ and choral ensembles, and in works that incorporate historic instruments. His 2012 piece Lauda novella was featured as part of the Twelfth Night Festival at Trinity Church Wall Street, and he was awarded first place in the Association of Anglican Musicians 2013 composition competition. Mr. Kennerley led a workshop for the composers of Princeton Sound Kitchen. Mr. Kennerley made his New York orchestral conducting debut at Lincoln Center in 2009 in two performances of the contemporary operetta, The Velvet Oratorio. He was Music Director for the Virginia Best Adams Fellows at the Carmel Bach Festival in July 2016, and conductor of ground-breaking US premieres of Cuban eighteenth-century music at the Hispanic Society in New York City in May that same year.
Lauded as an “excellent, true-toned tenor” by New Yorker critic Alex Ross, Mr. Kennerley has performed with many groups, including the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, Saint Thomas, Fifth Avenue, TENET, and the Clarion Music Society. He has studied with David Lowe, Robert Rice, Braeden Harris, and Maureen O’Flynn, and made his BAM/Mark Morris Dance Company solo début in 2010 in Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy. He was a prizewinner in the 2015 New York Oratorio Society’s vocal competition held at Carnegie Hall. In December 2015, he made the world premiere of both playing continuo and singing the tenor solos in performances of Handel’s Messiah with Julian Wachner and the Choir and Orchestra of Trinity Church Wall Street!
A native of the United Kingdom, Mr. Kennerley is the director of music at St. Paul’s Choir School and Parish in Cambridge, MA. He was Organist and Choirmaster at Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church, New York City from 2013-2019. There he directed the professional choir and coordinated the church’s extensive concert series. From 2008 he held a similar position at the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Times Square. He is also part of a team of musicians at Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City, one of the foremost centers of Jewish music and liturgy in the world. Mr. Kennerley was born in 1984 and became a chorister of Chelmsford Cathedral. He was educated at Harrow School and Cambridge University, where he was Organ Scholar at Jesus College. He was then appointed Organ Scholar of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, where he worked daily with the choir of men and boys under the direction of Malcolm Archer, and had the honour of performing in the presence of HM the Queen on several occasions. Mr. Kennerley was subsequently Associate Director of Music and Director of the Choir of Men and Boys at Christ Church, Greenwich, Connecticut.
Mr. Kennerley holds degrees from Cambridge University and The Juilliard School. He has studied the organ with David Sanger, Thomas Trotter and McNeil Robinson, and harpsichord with Kenneth Weiss, Peter Sykes, and Richard Egarr. He holds the prestigious Fellowship of the Royal College of Organists diploma. He lives on the West Side of Manhattan with his wife Emily Kennerley.
Last updated in March 2019. Please contact us directly for the most up-to-date biographical and promotional material for concerts etc.