James Baker is Principal Percussionist of the New York City Ballet Orchestra. He is Music Director and Conductor of the Composers Conference at Wellesley College and Director of the Percussion Ensemble at the Mannes College of Music. Mr. Baker was the Conductor of the New York New Music Ensemble and is Conductor of the Talea Ensemble. He is Guest Conductor of the Slee Sinfonietta at the Institute for 21st Century Music in Buffalo. He has led the Orchestra of the League of Composers, Speculum Musicae, Ensemble ACJW, including at Carnegie Hall, the Cygnus Ensemble ,the ensemble Tactus at the Manhattan School of Music, Ensemble 21, and the DaCapo Chamber players, among many others. He has conducted at the Darmstadt, Wien Moderne, Transit Belgium, Contempuls Prague, June in Buffalo, Beijing Modern and Monadnok music festivals. He has both played and conducted at the Bang on a Can Marathon and has conducted at the Monday Night Concerts in Los Angeles. He has conducted a number of Composers Portrait concerts at Miller Theater including those of Pierre Boulez (where he led the US premier of Derive II), Toru Takemitsu, Jason Eckardt, John Zorn and Chou Wen-chung. As instrumentalist or conductor he has premiered music by many of the great composers of the 20th and 21st centuries including Boulez, Cage, Carter, Messiaen, Dillon, Harvey, Wourinen, Davidovsky, Glass, Aperghis Reynolds, Henze, Crumb, Babbitt, Neuwirth, Furrer, and many, many others, often working closely with the composers. Through his work with his groups at conferences, universities, and festivals, he is an advocate for the music of a whole new generation of composers from around the world, premiering hundreds of new works. Mr. Baker was a conductor of Broadway shows for many years, conducting The King and I, The Sound of Music, The Music Man, Oklahoma, An Inspector Calls, and La Boheme, among others.
An active composer of electro-acoustic music, Mr. Baker won a Bessie award for composition for dance. He has written extensively for the theater and for various ensembles with electronics and has written a number of pieces for longtime collaborator/choreographer Tere O'Connor. Recent commissions include the Opera Ballet de Lyon, BAM Next Wave, The Dublin Dance Festival, and the Abbey Theater in Dublin.
As a percussionist he appears often with Orpheus, was a member of the American Composers Orchestra and the Eos Orchestra, and has played with the New York Philharmonic, the Paris Opera Orchestra, Royal Danish and Czech Philharmonic Orchestras, among others. He has appeared as a soloist at the Carnegie Hall Making Music series (with Hans Werner Henze), with American Composers Orchestra, at Lincoln Center Festival, Prague Spring Festival and at NY City Ballet and the Santa Fe and Moab chamber music festivals. He has played on many sound tracks for film and television and has appeared with Wayne Shorter, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Jimmy Webb, Aretha Franklin, Carly Simon, Michel LeGrand, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Branford Marsalis, Pablo Ziegler and many other jazz and pop performers.