New College unveils plaque to commemorate countertenor and Honorary Fellow, James Bowman

The plaque to James Bowman in the cloisters. It reads: James Thomas Bowman, 1941-2023. Countertenor. Honorary Fellow, 1998-2023.

New College has unveiled a new plaque in the cloisters to commemorate James Bowman: our Old Member, Honorary Fellow and sometime chorister who inspired an entire generation of countertenors. In a memorial service on Saturday 18 November, invited guests gathered in New College to celebrate his life. The memorial included an address by the Warden of New College, a eulogy by Brian Kay and a sermon by Canon James Hawkey. In addition, New College Choir performed a rousing rendition of James's favourite hymn, Angel Voices Ever Singing.

James Bowman was a fixture on the operatic and concert stages of Europe since the late 1960s and he made more than 130 commercial recordings. Matriculating in 1960, James joined the New College Choir upon his arrival. James himself had recounted that:

"It was at New College that I decided I wanted to bring the counter-tenor voice out of the closet".

His career was wide ranging, from becoming the first countertenor to sing at Glyndebourne (in a production of Cavalli's La Calisto), to premiering a number of contemporary works, such as Astron in Michael Tippett's opera The Ice Break in 1977. He received a host of awards during his life including the 'L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres' by the French government and was appointed a CBE in 1997.

In 1998, New College elected James as an Honorary Fellow and it did so because of the extraordinary contribution he had made to the history of music and performance. Two years ago, James chose to celebrate his 80th birthday in New College.

Miles Young, Warden of New College, concluded his address by asserting:

"People are often described as “larger than life”.  But I think it would be fair to say that James Bowman is larger than death. In the words of the hymn he chose for today he embodied “craftsman’s art and music’s measure”, in a manner which will endure for a very long time, with a legacy of gigantic proportions."

James Bowman as a Choral Scholar at New College
James Bowman as a choral scholar at New College