James Harp is well known in the Baltimore area as a pianist, organist, stage director, singer, composer, lecturer, writer and conductor. He began his musical career at age 7 as a church soloist, and has concertized in Italy, France, Greece, Israel, the Bahamas, and extensively throughout his native Southern United States. Among his more unusual musical experiences include singing “My Old Kentucky Home” as a soloist on National Television at the 1981 Kentucky Derby, coaching Lily Tomlin in arias from Aida for an Emmy-nominated “Homicide” segment, and nearly drowning after falling backwards into the Sea of Galilee while conducting madrigals.
He is the Artistic Director of Lyric Opera Baltimore, a new grand opera company for Baltimore being supported by the Lyric Opera House, where he oversees opera productions in the theatre as well as directs a significant program of education/outreach programs. He is also heavily involved in pursuing and nurturing partnerships and collaborations with arts organizations both locally and nationally in order to sustain the art forms of opera and music for perpetuity.
He holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the Peabody Conservatory of Music. He was the Artistic Administrator of the Baltimore Opera Company beginning in 1989 and was the Chorus Master since 1993. Since 1983 he has served as organist for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and since 1987 has been the Cantor (Organist/Choirmaster) for Baltimore’s historic St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, where he also serves as Artistic Director of the St. Cecilia Society Concert Series. He formerly served as Music Director of the Baltimore Men’s Chorus from 1989-1995 and was the accompanist for the Baltimore Symphony Chorus from 1982-1999. He is very proud to be the Principal Accompanist and Chorus Master for Baltimore Concert Opera since Spring of 2009.
Knowledgeable in many areas of music, he has lectured extensively on opera in many venues, including the Towson Arts Festival, the Maryland Opera Society, the Biblical Archaeology Society, and the Joy of Opera Series. He is on the faculty of the Johns Hopkins School of Continuing Education. Successful as a writer of operatic children’s programs, he and his work Puppets & Pagliacci were featured on a PBS documentary. His reworking and staging of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, changed from Florence, Italy in 1299 to Florence, Alabama, in 1929 and retitled The Tale of Johnnie S. Kickey, has been well received and performed in several regional opera companies and universities. He has served on several national advisory boards as a consultant and advocate for arts agencies.
As a stage director he has directed many operas for Artscape, Baltimore’s summer festival of the arts, including The Medum, Too Many Sopranos, Slow Dusk, and Beauty and the Beast. He has directed The Sorcerer, HMS Pinafore, The Gondoliers, Iolanthe and The Pirates of Penzance with the Young Victorian Opera Company. He has also staged operas at Anne Arundel Community College, where his version of The Elixer of Love, transplanted to Tennessee during Prohibition, was well received, as well as his productions of The Magic Flute and Die Fledermaus.
Sought after as an orchestral musician and accompanist, he has been featured as soloist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in works ranging from Saint-Saens Organ Symphony to Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. He has appeared as continuo (harpsichord/organ) soloist with many local orchestral and choral groups, where his informed and histrionic realizations of baroque figured bass have won acclaim. Accompanist to many local singers, many of whom feature his own compositions, he has also accompanied such artists as Leontyne Price, Marilyn Horne, Sherrill Milnes, Licia Albanese, Anna Moffo, Chris Merritt, Lucine Amara, and Paul Plishka.
An aficionado of gardening, theology, genealogy and all things Victorian, he lives in the Bolton Hill neighborhood of Baltimore with his gregarious pug, Ginger.