James Hewitt read music at Girton College, Cambridge, and continued his studies at the Royal Conservatoire, The Hague: baroque violin with Pavlo Beznosiuk, and composition with Martijn Padding, Cornelis de Bondt and Guus Janssen. He completed his master’s there with research in improvised counterpoint.
As a violinist he plays solo, chamber, and orchestral projects throughout the world. He is co- founder of the Estehaagse Ensemble, specializing in 17th and 18th century chamber music, and of the Scroll Ensemble, inspired by improvisatory practices throughout the ages. He plays in Yiddish baroque ensemble Simkhat Hanefesh, and as guest with Les Matelots in early dance and opera projects. He has participated in recordings with Contrasto Armonico, associated with an extended project to record all of Handel's Italian Cantatas, and with Pera Ensemble, combining baroque and Turkish instruments.
As a composer, his oeuvre includes opera, choral, and instrumental ensemble and solo works. His opera ‘Moses and Pharoah’ was premiered by the Cambridge University Opera Society, and his choral music has been performed by Ely Cathedral Choir among others. He has a special interest in exploring the possibilities of historical instruments and the attitude of flexibility, such as ‘Wohin, Woher’ for violin, traverso, and violone, recorded on a CD by Les Matelots, and ‘Four Temperaments’ for solo clavichord, premiered at the Nordic Early Keyboard Festival. He also works with interdisciplinary projects combining music, movement, and theatre.
In 2021, he was awarded the Gaël Liardon grant by Lausanne Festival, with his presentation, ‘Didactic Duos as a Model for Improvisation’. In the conference, Early Music Pedagogy Then and Now, Brescia 2022, he was invited to give a lecture, ‘Limitation and Transformation as Creative Process in Solo Improvisation’. Since 2018 he has been teaching historical improvisation with Robert de Bree at the Royal Conservatoire, The Hague, and he gives improvisation workshops for both early and contemporary performers, in European conservatories, and in courses such as Yiddish Summer Weimar and the Amsterdam Summer Course with Katie Duck.