Another Installment of the Oxford Series on the Choralosophy Podcast
Cecilia McDowall has long been one of my favorite Choral composers. If I were to boil down my reasons for this it would come to her masterful ability to transport both audience and performer through space and time with her writing. In this conversation, I was able to understand a bit more about how her approach and it all became more clear. She immerses herself in a story with each work. Be a fly on the wall as we discuss her writing process, her thoughts on balancing composition, teaching and motherhood throughout her life, interactions between composer and conductor, as well as an exploration of the vulnerability one must face to sing and to compose.
More About Cecilia McDowall
Born in London, 1951, Cecilia McDowall has won many awards, been short-listed eight times for the British Composer Awards and in 2014 won the Choral category of the British Composer Awards for her haunting work, Night Flight, which celebrates the pioneering flight of the American aviatrix, Harriet Quimby, across the English Channel. McDowall’s distinctive style speaks directly to listeners, instrumentalists and singers alike. Her most characteristic works fuse fluent melodic lines with occasional dissonant harmonies and rhythmic exuberance. Her music has been commissioned and performed by leading choirs, including the BBC Singers, The Sixteen, Oxford and Cambridge choirs, Kansas City Chorale, ensembles, and at festivals worldwide.
Recent commissions include When time is broke (Three Shakespeare Songs) for the BBC Singers and Adoro te devote for Westminster Cathedral Choir, London. Three Latin Motets were recorded by the renowned American choir, Phoenix Chorale, conductor, Charles Bruffy; this Chandos recording, Spotless Rose, won a Grammy award and was nominated for Best Classical Album. The National Children’s Choir of Great Britain commissioned a work focusing on ‘children in conflict’, called Everyday Wonders: The Girl from Aleppo. This cantata is based on the real-life escape of Nujeen Mustafa (who is wheelchair-bound) and her sister from war-torn Aleppo; it tells of their harrowing journey across 3,500 miles, through seven countries, eventually arriving in Germany with relief and great gratitude.
In May, 2019, Wimbledon Choral Society and the Philharmonia Orchestra premiered McDowall’s large-scale choral work, the Da Vinci Requiem, to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death. The work received its first performance on 7 May in the Royal Festival Hall, London. McDowall’s works are regularly broadcast on BBC Radio and readily available on CD.
In 2013 Cecilia McDowall received an Honorary Doctorate from Portsmouth University and in 2017 McDowall was selected for an Honorary Fellow award by the Royal School of Church Music. In 2019 she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from West London University. In 2021 the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, will release a CD of her choral music on the Hyperion label. In 2020 McDowall was presented with the prestigious Ivor Novello Award for ‘outstanding music collection’ for a ‘consistently excellent body of work’. This was a ‘Gift’ from The Ivors Academy (formerly the British Composers’ Academy).
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