Already a presence to be reckoned with by his early 20s, James Ehnes has risen steadily to claim a place among the finest violinists of the day.
Critics were impressed with both his immaculate technique and his musical integrity, each of an order rare enough in a musician of any age. Ehnes has continued to consolidate his strengths, bringing audiences a brand of music-making that transcends the present and draws upon the richest traditions of ages past. Born into a musical family, Ehnes was exposed to a variety of instruments as a child, but found himself attracted to the violin. At age four, he began lessons with his father, a trumpet professor at Brandon University, and by nine, Ehnes came into the care of François Chaplin, a respected violin pedagogue on the faculty of Brandon University. Under Chaplin's tutelage, Ehnes won the 1987 grand prize in strings during the Canadian Music Competition; in 1988, he won first prize in strings at the Canadian Music Festival, becoming the youngest musician to have accomplished that feat. Chaplin directed his protégé to the Meadowmount School, a summer program offered by the Society for Strings. At Meadowmount, Ehnes began studying with Sally Thomas, whose presence at the Juilliard School of Music in New York induced him to enroll there in order to continue his work with her. Ehnes' way to Juilliard was facilitated when he was awarded the first-ever Ivan Galamian Memorial Award (25,000 dollars), named for Meadowmount's founder. At Juilliard, Ehnes appreciated Thomas' nontraditional instructional methodology; with her, he was able to explore his own solutions to technical and interpretive problems. He especially appreciated the fact that her students emerged with their individuality fully uncovered and developed. Ehnes signed a contract with Telarc Records in 1995. Arts manager Walter Homburger came out of retirement to guide Ehnes' career several years before his graduation from Juilliard with the Peter Mennin Prize for Outstanding Achievement and Leadership in Music in 1997. Upon finishing his studies, the violinist elected to permanently settle in New York. A much-appreciated collaborator with many of the foremost conductors of the new millennium, Ehnes has worked with many of the world's leading conductors and orchestras. The violinist's success as a recitalist led him to chamber music collaborations with such artists as pianists Leif Ove Andsnes and fellow Canadian Louis Lortie and cellists Yo-Yo Ma and Steven Doane. An active recording artist, Ehnes has won several prestigious awards: In January 2002, he was honored as Young Artist of the Year at the Cannes Classical Awards for his Analekta disc of Six Solo Sonatas and Partitas by Bach. The same recording won the JUNO Award for Best Classical Album. Among Ehnes' other acclaimed recordings are his first disc of Paganini Caprices; a collection of Debussy, Ravel, and Saint-Saëns with accompanist Wendy Chen; and the Bruch Violin Concertos No. 1 and No. 3 with Charles Dutoit and the l'Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. His 2006 recording of the Korngold Concerto won a Grammy, and 2011 saw the release of his Bartók violin and viola concertos.