In 1981 he was invited by Claudio Abbado to lead the European Youth Orchestra, and subsequently became the first leader of the newly formed Chamber Orchestra of Europe working with some of the world’s greatest musicians including Solti, Pollini, Barenboim and Abbado.
As a member of the Endellion Quartet from 1984 chamber music became an increasingly important music activity. James was also active with the Raphael Ensemble, playing regularly on radio and producing several well received discs of Brahms and Dvořák Sextets.
For five years until 1990 James was leader of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and from 1990 to 1998, as leader, James took a major role in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s artistic development and high profile. Since 1999 James has been Concertmaster of the Philharmonia Orchestra, London, one of the world’s finest and most recorded symphony orchestras. He also continues to be in demand as a guest leader and chamber musician across Britain and Europe.
In 2004 James was also appointed Leader of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, a post he holds in tandem with that of the Philharmonia.