Shirley Thompson


The award-winning London composer Shirley J. Thompson is widely celebrated for her pioneering, eclectic and original writing style. She is the first woman in Europe to have composed and conducted a symphony in the last 30 years.

Born to Jamaican parents, Thompson‘s musical experience began with her playing the violin for various youth symphony orchestras in London, as well as choral singing with local choirs in Newham, which provided her with a thorough grounding in the great classical orchestral and choral works. After studying Music at the University of Liverpool and then specialising in Composition at Goldsmiths‘ College with Professor Stanley Glasser, her first major commission came from the Greenwich International Festival, when she wrote a chamber work entitled Visions that was performed by the Greenwich Ensemble.

In 1995, Thompson set up her own chamber orchestra, The Shirley Thompson Ensemble with whom she developed an innovative style, fusing contemporary classical orchestrations with popular dance and vocal styles. She also began successful experimentation with improvisatory methods, finding versatile musicians like herself that could glide effortlessly between contemporary classical and diverse Popular and World Music styles which has led to a reputation for eclecticism, mixing and merging musical languages to produce distinct 21st Century musical fusions.

Thompson‘s orchestral works includes New Nation Rising: A 21st Century Symphony, a ground-breaking work that employs a full symphony orchestra with two choirs, solo singers, a rapper and dhol drummers in an epic musical story celebrating London‘s thousand-year history and has been recorded by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Her most recent orchestral work, Spirit of the Middle Passage for Solo Voices, Speaker & Orchestra includes the widely performed movement The Women Who Refused to Dance.

An aficionado of dance, Thompson has created music for contemporary and classical choreographers, including commissions for The Royal Ballet School‘s choreographic workshops. Her most famous dance score for solo cello & string orchestra which accompanies Russell Maliphant‘s Shift, has been presented in opera houses across Europe and America including Venice‘s La Fenice, Madrid‘s Teatro Real and New York City Center.

Music for the theatrical stage includes her score for the play, The Lodger (Theatre Royal, Stratford East) and A Child of the Jago, an opera in two acts presented by London‘s Royal Festival Hall. Jago earned her a nomination for the Woman of the Year award in recognition of her contribution to the Arts. Thompson is additionally in demand for film and television composition, and her credits include the BBC drama series, South of the Border and the film Dreaming Rivers. Shirley Thompson is Reader in Music at the University of Westminster.

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