Michael James Graham was born in Pretoria, South Africa in 1992. Attending Pretoria Boys’ High School from 2006-2010, he took music as a subject under Dr Niel van der Watt, playing cello in the school’s symphony orchestra. During this time he received his Grade 6 in cello and Grade 8 in classical voice qualifications through the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.
After a year at the University of Pretoria, James Graham transferred to the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town, where he majored in composition and took classical voice as his instrument. In 2014 he graduated with his BMus in Composition (with distinction), and in July 2017, he graduated with his MMus in Composition and Dissertation (with distinction) under the supervision of Prof. Hendrik Hofmeyr and Dr Martin Watt. During the latter degree he completed a dissertation analysing the two cello concertos by the late Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. The research was sponsored by the National Research Foundation for 2015 and 2016.
During his time at the University of Cape Town, James Graham received the Peter Klatzow Prize for Composition (2013), and the Meyer Levinson Prize for Best Original Composition (2014) for his chamber opera scene The Death of Cleopatra. In 2016, he won the Composers’ National Collegium Cone of Composition competition for his chamber work Procession of the Diabolicals, and was invited to write another piece of chamber music for the following year’s competition to be played as an epilogue. In June 2017 he attended composition masterclasses with Prof. Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph in Cape Town.
James Graham’s oeuvre comprises a concerto for clarinet, piano, viola, and orchestra, numerous solo instrumental works, and a number of chamber pieces for varying mixed ensembles. He is currently at work on a concerto for violin and orchestra, a piece for string orchestra, and a work for voice and chamber ensemble, written as part of the international Performing the Jewish Archive project, which will be premiered in September 2017. He is currently looking to further his studies in Finland.