James Ra’s music has been described as “coursing with adrenaline-pumping energy.” Of the New Jersey Symphony performance of Awakened Spirit, The Star Ledger wrote, “Once it caught sight of the end...it was a fast sprint to the tape.” In Japan, when the Curtis Chamber Orchestra took his Concerto Grosso No. 1 on tour, they wrote: “the Concerto Grosso No. 1 had a tremendous impact on the audience. Its themes of love, life, and death were dramatically expressed.” This work subsequently aired on National Public Radio. The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, “This is a composer to watch.”
He has received commissions and performances from many recognized artists. Crescent Moon, commissioned by Soovin Kim (violin faculty, New England Conservatory) and his piano quartet MIK, was taken on their tour of Korea with Chee-Yun Kim (violin faculty and artist-in-residence Indiana University and Southern Methodist University) and was subsequently recorded and released on Stomp Records (EMI). Clearing was performed at Princeton University as part of their Atelier under the direction of Richard Danielpour and Toni Morrison. The Arditti String Quartet performed his Ephrata and Marvin Moon (violist, Philadelphia Orchestra) commissioned and performed Concertino for Viola and String Quintet. Patrick Jee (cellist, New York Philharmonic) commissioned Evocation for Cello and Piano under the sponsorship of KAMSA and subsequently recorded the piece under the Urtext label. True Worshippers recorded It Is Well and God’s Grace under the Sony label. His music has been performed by various members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, NY Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Boston Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Seoul Philharmonic, Grant Park Festival Orchestra in venues such as Carnegie Hall, Weill Hall, Merkin Hall, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Philadelphia Convention Center, Herbst Theatre in San Francisco, Seoul Arts Hall in Seoul, Korea, Arts Hall in Busan, Korea, Daejeon Arts Hall in Daejeon, Korea, at the Tong Yeong International Music Festival, as well as in France, India and Turkey.
Ra was the Young Composer-in-Residence at Music From Angel Fire and has also served as Composer-in-Residence for the Korean Concert Society in Washington D.C. Recently, he has collaborated with the Vienna Boys Choir on a documentary film scheduled to air on PBS. He is the recipient of a MacDowell residency, the International NPSS Composition Concours Grand Prize, the Manhattan Prize, the Franklin & Marshall College Composition Prize, the Louisa Knapp Fellowship, the John Brenton Fellowship, a fellowship at the Academy of Villecroze, and was a winner of the New Jersey Symphony Composition & Conducting Institute Competition.
Born in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, his teachers include Richard Danielpour, Ned Rorem, George Tsontakis, John Carbon, Simon Andrews and Seung Jae Chung. He holds degrees from Franklin and Marshall College, the Curtis Institute of Music and a DMA from the Manhattan School of Music.