Praised as ‘highly original’ (Beverly Brommert, Cape Times), South African composer James Wilding’s mastery of structure and lyricism, and his use of ethnic instruments and folk tunes capture audiences in the US and abroad. His music has been described as ‘tumultuous, immersing itself in detail’ (Werner Rossmanith, Fürther Nachrichten). Critics have been impressed by his ‘gripping’ compositions (Thys Odendaal, Beeld) and his ability to weave a ‘conclusive musical web’ (Jan-Barra Hentschel, Harburger Nachrichten). Listeners enjoy the connections to art, photography, literature, and stories in his ‘successful programmatic’ style (Darrell Rosenbluth, New York Concert Review). Equally at home in writing for the piano as for chamber ensembles, singers, and full orchestra, Wilding has created innovative pieces for a wide variety of genres.
As a pianist, Wilding is known for his ‘sensitive and engaging manner’ (Gudrun Szczepanek, Landsberger Tagblatt). He thrills audiences with heartfelt performances of his own works and of the standard repertoire, with a tone that has been described as ‘crisp and robust, and gentle and soothing’ (David Kruger, Argus).
Wilding recently released his debut solo piano album Pictures on the Filia Mundi Label, representing a cross section of his compositional output between 1998 and 2018. In the album, ‘every piece was inspired by something outside the world of music, from the concrete (a particular sculpture) to the abstract (a vision of the end of the world)… perhaps the biggest draw of listening to Pictures is the unique glimpse it gives into one artist’s process of composition’ (Jarrett Hoffman, Cleveland Classical).
Organizations are keen to request music from Wilding, for example, the Tuesday Musical Association commissioned Homeland Portraits for string quartet for the opening concert of their 130th Anniversary Season, which was performed at E. J. Thomas Hall in Akron, Ohio by the Escher Quartet. The Orange County School of the Arts commissioned Grand Waltz for one piano eight hands for their Pianist Program Season Finale Gala, and the South African Music Rights Organization commissioned Ritual for two recorders and piano for the Recorder Society of South Africa. Wilding’s concept show Crumb Kaleidoscope for two pianos, percussion, and dizi, commissioned by the Bayerischer Rundfunk and performed in Germany and South Africa, explores the connections between George Crumb’s music and a spectrum of music from Bach to Chopin to jazz, and features authentic Chinese folk instruments and an antique gramophone player.
James Wilding’s work has been enthusiastically performed in Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Senegal, Germany, Holland, France, Switzerland, Britain, Canada, South Africa, and the USA, by such groups as the Stow Symphony Orchestra, the New York Middletown Wind Ensemble, the TEMPO ensemble at California State University Northridge, the Chamber Music Society of Ohio, and the Harburger Orchester Akademie, and by artists such as Israeli pianist Dror Biran, Swedish violinist Semmy Stahlhammer, American percussionists Andrea Moore and Yuri Inoo, South African singer Erica Eloff, and German pianist Caroline Oltmanns. His music is published by Editions Musica Ferrum, the Foundation for the Creative Arts, the University of South Africa, and Wilding Publications. Performances of his works have been broadcast all over the world, including Bavaria Radio (Fürth), Fine Music Radio (Cape Town), SAFM (Johannesburg), WUOL (Louisville), and KKGO (Los Angeles).
Wilding’s works have achieved considerable acclaim. His Etude for solo piano was prescribed for the UNISA-Transnet International Piano Competition. The piano piece, Poem, was prescribed for the Hennie Joubert National Competition in South Africa. He won the Oude Meester Prize for South African composers, which resulted in the commission for his String Trio, and Potchefstroom University’s Chancellor’s Trust Prize, likewise producing slaap klein beminde for soprano and piano trio.
Another aspect of James Wilding’s compositional work is focused on music arranging. His reconstruction of Debussy’s Rapsodie for saxophone and orchestra was premiered by saxophonist Todd Gaffke, and he arranges folk songs from his native South Africa, a project supported by Hal Leonard music publishing.
Wilding enjoys early music, particularly the realisation of figured-bass, which he performs on his 1993 David Sutherland Italianate Harpsichord.
Wilding is Professor of Instruction and Co-Chair in Composition and Theory at the University of Akron, where he also directs the New Music Festival. He earned the Bachelor and Master of Music from the University of Cape Town, a second Master of Music from Youngstown State University, and a Doctorate from Kent State University. His musical mentors were Neil Solomon, Stewart Young, Peter Klatzow, Thomas Janson, Lamar Crowson, George Crumb, Brandt Fredriksen, Wilfrid Hiller, Vladimir Viardo, and Frank Wiley.