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David James ~ In Memoriam 2024

It is with heavy hearts that we share the devastating news of the loss of David James last week. A wonderful musician and person, he was devoted husband to Robelyn Schrade from their wedding in 1978 to her passing in 2014, as well as a devoted parent to Lynelle James and Christopher James, who are in our thoughts and prayers as they cope with this terrible loss. They both had flown down to be by his side after a sudden decline in health, and they were with him at the end. 

David was a beloved member of the extended Schrade family and a treasured part of Sevenars, both as a member of the Board of Directors and as a regular performer. His stature as one of the top pianists of New Zealand was well earned, and his recorded performances of numerous concerti with virtually every orchestra there are still sought after and continue to be aired by radio stations there. 

David worked with many of the leading conductors of the world, including, quite memorably, Sir Charles Groves. Particularly monumental were his performances of Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto, but he excelled in a wide range of concerto repertoire, from Mozart to the lesser-known Litolff to Poulenc.

His chamber collaborations were cherished as well, including with leading cellists Wilfred Simenauer in NZ and Michael Rudiakov in the US. His collaborations with Michael Rudiakov resulted in a 1983 recording of cello music by Russian Jewish Composers for the Musique Internationale label. Most memorable, of course, were his countless collaborations with pianist Robelyn Schrade, at Lincoln Center and Weill Hall, New York, New Zealand, Fiji, throughout the United States, and of course at Sevenars. They radiated the perfect balance of playfulness and wizardry, and there are many who cannot bear to hear anyone else play Lutoslawski's Paganini Variations after hearing them - among other works.

Born in 1947 in Gisborne, NZ, David started playing the piano at a young age and worked with the highly-regarded teacher and pianist Janetta McStay. Recipient of a Queen Elizabeth II grant from NZ, David came to the United States in the 1970's where he studied at both Peabody and Juilliard, with teachers Leon Fleischer, Irwin Freundlich, and Lillian Freundlich. In 1975 he was one of the top prizewinners in the renowned University of Maryland Piano Competition (now called William Kapell International Piano Competition). Shortly after that he met his future love, Robelyn, in a practice room area of Juilliard (where we were told the classic debate over whose room was whose showed a rare and special conciliation) - and soon afterwards, he sat at the crowded NY dinner table with the whole family, undaunted by the seven pairs of eyes - and ears drawn to his lovely accent. In 1976 he played at Sevenars, the first year that concerts were held at the recently acquired and refurbished Academy concert hall, and by 1977 Robelyn and David were engaged to marry, which they did in 1978. By 1980, he was a big part of the family's much-lauded Alice Tully Hall debut as a group, and by 1993, daughter Lynelle had joined. By the year 2000, son Christopher had joined as well. Along with Schrade-James ventures, all four James musicians performed at Weill Hall in 2010. James family members had also performed multiple keyboard concerti together here and in New Zealand. 

In addition to all of the above, David was also pianist for the University Glee Club, which had regular appearances at Lincoln Center as well as in the UK, and for the Chapin School and the Brearley School. He also taught for many years at the Manhattan School of Music Preparatory Division and was loved by an entire generation of piano students.

We had so eagerly anticipated David's return from New Zealand to the United States, not just to welcome him back but to hear him and join him in performing in the opening of Sevenars' new season. We are devastated and reeling, but we aim to perform the same program on July 14 that was planned, dedicating it to him. His spirit and his music will live on.