BBC Radio 3: on 2 December The Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge, gave the premiere of Cecilia McDowall’s Advent commission, ‘A Prayer to St John the Baptist’, conductor, Andrew Nethsingha, Glen Dempsey, organ. OUP publish this anthem in April 2019. ‘Written for the 2018 BBC Advent broadcast sung by the choir of St John’s College, Cambridge, A Prayer to St John the Baptist sets an artfully crafted text that combines Guido d’Arezzo’s Ut queant laxis (itself a Hymn to John the Baptist, as well as a medieval music-teaching mnemonic) with Thomas Merton’s poem on the same subject. The organ’s flowing quavers represent Merton’s baptismal ‘rivers of water’, while the largely octatonic melodies conjure a tellingly mysterious atmosphere.’
On September 21 the BBC Singers gave the London premiere of McDowall’s cantata, ‘Everyday Wonders: The Girl from Aleppo’ with violinist, Harriet Mackenzie, James Morgan, conductor. A cantata inspired by Nujeen Mustafa’s remarkable escape from Aleppo, based on the book, ‘The Girl from Aleppo’ co-authored by Christina Lamb with Nujeen Mustafa. Kevin Crossley-Holland created the libretto based on this extraordinary girl’s escape in a wheelchair. The BBC Singers’ broadcast takes place on 4 March, 2019 on BBC Radio 3 at 3.05pm.
1 April the Cathedral Choir, directed by Thomas Corns, sang McDowall’s Easter Light (a setting of Angier Brock’s evocative text) accompanied by organist, James Kealey.
On 22 February, Trinity College Choir sang Cecilia McDowall’s a cappella service, the ‘St Pancras Canticles’, (commissioned by the LFCCM) at Choral Evensong. They are available to hear on Trinity College Choir’s webcast:
Also on 12/26 October and 7/16/21 November, 2017, Trinity College Choir, Cambridge, conductor, Stephen Layton, featured five anthems; Standing as I do before God, Adoro te devote, The Lord is Good, Deus portus pacis and O Oriens. Also beyond the stars. These works can be heard on listen again at:
On 2 February, Trio Derazey (formerly the Jørgensen Trio) launched Cecilia McDowall’s new chamber music CD (Colour of Blossoms) on the Deux-Elles label. ‘Cecilia McDowall grasps the nature of the piano trio as a modern medium, even it there’s something distictly Romantic about her inspiration. There are riches here that deserve to be enjoyed beyond the closed world of contemporary music.’ Gramophone, April, 2018
On Sunday, 27 August and on the following day the Sine Nomine International Touring Choir, conductor Sue Hollingworth, give the first performance of ‘Love incorruptible’ at the Presteigne Festival.
On 6 August BBC Radio 3’s presenter, James Jolly, broadcast ‘Great Hills’ for solo violin, two flutes and string orchestra on the ‘Sunday Morning’ programme.
As part of the LFCCM The Queen’s College Choir performed ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’ at a lunchtime concert in Oxford. It is available on Queen’s recent release entitled ‘A New Heaven’ on the Signum label:
Cecilia McDowall has been honoured as a Fellow of the Royal School of Church Music. The FRSCM is an award for achievements in church music which have international significance, and in 2017 Cecilia is one of six recipients, together with Garmon Ashby, Katherine Dienes-Williams, Bob Chilcott, Patrick Russill, and Jeremy Summerly. The FRSCM will be conferred at a ceremony in the Autumn. The RSCM is a worldwide organisation which offers support and materials for Church musicians, and Cecilia is thrilled to be recognised by it.
A New Heaven has just been released on the Signum label by The Choir of Queen’s College, Oxford, conductor Owen Rees. is released today on the Signum label. Sublime music centering on revelatory visions of earth and heaven. Works by Gabriel Jackson, Phillip Cooke, David Bednall, Toby Young, Marco Galvani, James MacMillan, John Rutter, Kenneth Leighton and Edward Bainton.
Also included on the CD is Cecilia McDowall’s I know that my redeemer liveth which sets a composite Biblical text familiar from its use in Handel’s Messiah: her work was commissioned in 2009, the 250th anniversary of Handel’s death, to be performed alongside Brahms’ A German Requiem. The text is a revelatory vision of our bodily resurrection on the Day of Judgement. From a tranquil opening, the music builds to a radiant climax (highlighted by a sudden shift to a new harmonic realm) at the words ‘and in my flesh shall I see God’. The ensuing triple-time section incorporates a memorable lullaby-like portrayal of ‘them that sleep’.
On BBC Radio 3 ‘Breakfast’ (from 2h 19 into the programme) on 21 February, ‘Rain, steam and speed’ was broadcast by the Ulster Orchestra and conductor George Vass. It is inspired by Turner’s painting of the same name, depicting a train traversing Brunel’s newly constructed Maidenhead viaduct. Ruskin said of the railways; ‘You enterprised a railroad through the valley, blasted its rocks away, heaped thousands of tons of shale into its lovely stream. The valley is gone, and the gods with it; and now, every fool in Buxton can be at Bakewell in half-an-hour, and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton; which you think a lucrative process of exchange, you Fools everywhere!’
The Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge, Andrew Nethsingha, conductor | Signum
‘Christmas with St John’s (Signum) is a meticulously sung carol collection from the always classy choir of St John’s College, Cambridge. Most arresting is ‘O Oriens’, by Cecilia McDowall, a beautiful setting of an Advent antiphon, its shimmering tone clusters and delicious suspensions evoking the morning star as it slowly rises through the heavens.’
Song of the Nativity | Coro | The Sixteen, Harry Christophers, BBC Music Magazine, Christmas Choice 2016.
‘Christmas CDs by famous choirs can have an element of routine or cashing in to them, but not this one. The Sixteen give a masterclass in the art of unaccompanied singing, and in close emotional engagement with the pieces chosen. These are a canny combination of old and new. Throughout there is an emphasis on the less familiar corners of the repertoire. Among these Will Todd’s tenderly ecstatic ‘My Lord has come’, Cecilia McDowall’s vibrant, chant-inspired ‘Now may we singen’and Alan Bullard’s awestruck ‘And all the stars looked down’ are particularly welcome inclusions. The Sixteen’s consummate technical ability has long been legendary, but it’s their ability to conceal it which is truly special. It put the music front and centre, in this beautifully realised Christmas sequence.’
Baritone, Roderick Williams, and pianist, Julius Drake gave a recital in Middle Temple Hall as part of the Temple Song Series entitled, An English Winter Journey. Designed to intimate Schubert’s ‘Der Winterreise’ the programme follows a similar wintry trajectory in English Song. Roderick William’s commissioned a song from Cecilia McDowall, a setting of the evocative words of the poet John Greening. This sonnet is one from a sequence of 36 poems (‘The Winter Journey’) detailing the expedition of three of Captain Scott’s men made in the dark Antarctic winter of 1911 to collect an Emperor Penguin’s egg. In this poem Greening cleverly suggests the opening song from Der Winterreise in both shape and rhythm, at the same time drawing us deep into Scott’s dark polar world where man battles against the ferocious elements, all in the name of science. This is a ‘walking’ song, steadily moving onward, but at times a sense of hopelessness and despair breaks through with a grinding, falling motive in the accompaniment. The last couplet of the song is set at a slower tempo with a repeated single note line drifting into the bleak icy air.
The BBC Singers presented a new carol each day in December. On Day 4 they sang Cecilia McDowall’s ‘Ave Maria’
On 28 October, Signum released ‘Christmas at St John’s’ which includes Cecilia McDowall’s ‘O Oriens’. Conductor Andrew Nethsingha.
On 1 October ‘Stabat Mater’ received its Scottish premiere given by Leigh Melrose, baritone, the new Festival Chorus, Genesis Sixteen, NYOS and the RSNO Junior Chorus, conducted by Eamonn Dougan.
On 30 September The Sixteen released a new CD on the Coro label, ‘Song of the Nativity’ which includes Cecilia McDowall’s ‘Now may we singen’. Conductor Harry Christophers.
For 24 hours singers joined together to raise money for Cancer Reasearch UK by singing requiems by Mozart, Duruflé, Bob Chilcott, Fauré and a new work especially written for the occasion by Cecilia McDowall, Now is the time. This little anthem sets poignant and apposite words by Marie Curie, some taken from a letter she wrote to her brother about her work. Now is the time be published shortly by OUP.
The conductors were Neil Ferris, Jeremy Jackman and Joanna Tomlinson. The accompanists, Michael Higgins, Nicola Rose and Simon Gregory and the soloists were Jocelyn Somerville, Eleanor Dann, Beth Moxon, Tom Smith and Kieran Seymour. The total raised so far is: £22,935.14.
On 12 August Night Flight was performed in its entirety at the Musicque-Cordiale Festival in Seillians, France, conducted by the director of music at Clare College, Cambridge, Graham Ross. On 27 August Night Flight received its Welsh premiere at the Presteigne Festival given by the Presteigne Festival Chamber Choir, Joy Lisney, cello, conducted by Philip Sunderland.
The SATB version of the St Albans Canticles was broadcast by the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music Choir at St Pancras Church at 3.30pm. The service was repeated on Sunday, 15 May at 4.00pm.
The BBC Singers gave the first broadcast on BBC Radio 3 of When time is broke, which had been premiered on 28 January, conducted by David Hill.
In conjunction with Sam West the BBC Singers performed works marking the First World War. The concert included the a cappella work, a setting of words by Edith Cavell and Sean Street, Standing as I do before God.
David Hill conducts the BBC Singers in the first performance of three Shakespeare settings, When time is broke at LSO St Luke’s. Published in May 2016
Rupert Gough conducts the Choir of Royal Holloway and Orchestra Nova in celebration, a day early, of St Cecilia at the Royal Holloway Chapel, Egham, Surrey. Music by Gabriel Jackson, Toby Young, Stephen Paulus, Rene Clausen and a premiere of a work in praise of St Cecilia by Cecilia McDowall; the text is taken from the Divine Office, ‘Cecilia, busy like a bee.’
Hosted by ECSA (the European Composer and Songwriter Alliance),the BBC Singers give a climatic concert at St Giles’ Church Cripplegate, London, celebrating the very best of European contemporary choral music. Competitively drawn following a Europe-wide call for scores, the repertoire comprises nine outstanding choral pieces by composers from five different countries, all written in the past 15 years. Cecilia McDowall’s a cappella work, Standing as I do before God, receives its London premiere. The work uses words spoken by Nurse Edith Cavell on the eve of her execution on 12 October, 1915. She was arrested for treason after it was discovered she had been sheltering allies in German occupied Belgium and helping them escape to neutral Holland and beyond. Sean Street has set her words in context with his meditative reflections on her final hours.
ECSA is a professional alliance formed by over 40 associations of more than 23,000 composers and songwriters from all over Europe with a mission to protect the rights of composers and improve the development of music creation across Europe. For more information please visit the website:
On Monday, 31 August, renowned soprano, Gillian Keith and Timothy End, piano, give the premiere of ‘Flights of Angels’, a new cycle featuring poems by Kevin Crossley-Holland, Sean Street, Simon Mundy and Caroline Natzler. Four angels in different guises are represented in ‘Flights of Angels’, the title taken from the closing lines of Hamlet, ‘Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.’
On Wednesday, 19 August, organist Donald Hunt performed ‘Church bells beyond the stars’ as the postlude voluntary to Choral Evensong, broadcast from St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh. The service made especial mention in prayers of John Scott, Director of Music and organist of St Thomas’s Church, New York, a truly remarkable man in every way. His untimely death has greatly shocked the musical world. The broadcast will be on iPlayer until 27 September at this link:
On Sunday, 28 June the choir, conductor George Vass, gives a ‘musical celebration in memory of John McCabe’ at St Mary of Charity, Faversham, Kent. Five new works have been specially commissioned for the occasion, funded by the John Armitage Memorial Trust, by Thomas Hyde, David Matthews, Cecilia McDowall, Deborah Pritchard and Robert Saxton. All proceeds are in aid of Brain Tumour Research. The concert begins at 7.00pm. It would be wonderful to see many there.
Westminster Cathedral Choir, Music Director Martin Baker, give the premiere of an a cappella work, a setting of Aquinas’ Adoro te devote. It is dedicated to the memory of all those who have perished in these shocking and disastrous Nepal earthquakes.
On Sunday, 10 May the Choir of The Queen’s College, Oxford, Music Director, Owen Rees, broadcast Choral Evensong on BBC Radio 3 (a repeat of the Wednesday broadcast) from The Queen’s Chapel. The service included McDowall’s anthem, I know that my Redeemer liveth and it is on BBC iPlayer until 7 June at this address:
Award-winning folk music artist, Lisa, reflects on the Shipping Forecast. Sean Street, Ian Anderson and Cecilia McDowall share their thoughts on what the Shipping Forecast means to them all.
Noriko gave an outstanding performance of the premiere, ‘Le Tombeau de Rachmaninov’, at the Bridgewater Hall as part of the Rachmaninov and Ravel Festival (continuing until 24 April http://tickets.bridgewater-hall.co.uk/single/EventListing.aspx?k=190).This is an anthology of piano pieces written to echo Ravel’s exquiste ‘Tombeau de Couperin’; the six composers are Stephen Hough (Prelude) Alan Mills (Fugue) Peter Fribbins (Forlane) James Francis Brown (Rigaudon) Cecilia McDowall (Menuet) Takashi Yoshimatsu (Toccata). The work is published by Music Haven.
The BBC Singers, conductor, Bob Chilcott, give the premiere of ‘Give me some music’ which is part of a larger work, all a cappella settings of words by Shakespeare to do with the relationship between love, the dance and music, entitled ‘When time is broke’. The concert is broadcast on 4 April at 8pm. It can be heard at this link until May 4:
‘Ave maris stella’ was broadcast on ‘Breakfast’ – Saturday with Martin Handley. The work was recorded by the City of Canterbury Chamber Choir, conductor, George Vass, and commissioned by Andrew Cleary and the Portsmouth Festival Choir. It is on Player until 27 April: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05ns69x
Dulwich College commissioned ‘Some Corner of a Foreign Field’ for performance by the combined choirs of Dulwich College Madrigal Choir and Chorus with the Dulwich College Concert Orchestra, tenor soloist, James Oxley, conductor, Richard Mayo, at King’s College, Cambridge on 25 March. Scored for harp and strings, this work sets a text connected with Sir Ernest Shackleton, a ‘versioning’ by the Master of Dulwich College, Dr Joe Spence, of the OA poet, Ernest Armine Wodehouse (brother of P.G.Wodehouse, also an OA) and the poem by King’s graduate, Rupert Brooke, ‘If I should die, think only this of me’. ‘Some Corner of a Foreign Field’ is to be published in August/September 2015 by OUP.
The young pianist, Grace Francis, gives an exquisite interpretation of ‘Vespers in Venice’ from her newly released CD, ‘Sacred’.
The renowned organist, John Kitchen, plays ‘Church bells beyond the stars’ on ‘Breakfast’ with Sarah Walker and Rob Cowan. This work has recently been recorded on the Delphian label and is currently on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Ty5ocRlmyc
In February John Aley, Professor of Trumpet at the School of Music, Wisconsin-Madison University, invited Cecilia to take part in a ‘Residency and Concert Series showcasing the music of British composer Cecilia McDowall’, her first residency in the United States. The Festival was shaped around her symphonic song cycle, ‘Seventy degrees below zero’ and superb performances were given by professorial staff and students playing alongside each other in concerts covering a broad scope of her music; brass, orchestral, choral, chamber and instrumental. More information about this residency can be found at: http://www.music.wisc.edu/cecilia-mcdowall/
Winner of the 2014 British Composer Award for choral music, Cecilia McDowall, talks to Sara Mohr-Pietsch about her own choral favourites. The podcast – a shortened version of the Choral Interview – is available of the programme at this address: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/choir
Cecilia McDowall has won the 2014 British Composer Award for Choral music. The Awards ceremony was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Saturday, 6 December on ‘Hear and Now’ at 10pm. It will play until 27 December at this address: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04t91rz
Cecilia McDowall has been shortlisted in the ‘Choral’ category for her work, Night Flight, written for SSATB and cello solo. The work was commissioned by the Musique Cordiale Festival and given its first UK performance by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, music director, Graham Ross, cellist, Joy Lisney. In three movements the work sets poems by Sheila Bryer. Night Flight was premiered in the States by the Grammy award winning Phoenix Chorale, music director, Charles Bruffy. The three composers shorlisted in the Choral category of the BCA are Harrison Birtwistle, Samuel Bordoli and McDowall. The presentation of the British Composer Awards takes place on Tuesday, 2 December, at Goldsmiths Hall, London.
The title refers not only to the primitive flying machines but also to gas warfare, and an intensely expressive soprano aria on this theme forms the opera’s emotional core. In the first scene, the two principals awkwardly introduce each other in an extended duet, and this sense of dislocation is mirrored to poignant effect, near the end of the piece as the disembodied voice of Johnny. The well-crafted score makes subtle use of ostinatos and features fully-fledged arias . . . Future operatic works by McDowall are keenly anticipated. Opera
McDowall’s innate grasp of the medium’s capacity for ambiguity was evident in the opening bars as the Edwardian idyll of the prologue with its distant strains of the popular song ‘Roses of Picardy’ is subverted by an ominously insistent use of side drum conjuring up dance-band associations as well as gunfire. In the affecting conclusion, after Johnny has been killed in combat, an ascending solo violin takes up Alice’s reference to birdsong, leaving us with this delicate symbol of nature as the scene fades from view. Soprano Donna Lennard and baritone Henry Manning excelled in musically and dramatically demanding roles and the staging was simple but effective. Cecilia McDowall’s judicious selection of instrumental groups from the reduced forces – flute (doubling piccolo), clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), violin, cello, harp and percussion evoked precisely the period setting. This fine work merits a secure place in the chamber opera canon. Paul Conway, Musical Opinion Quarterly
‘The simple, poignant story of a doomed love affair was clearly told and the atmospheric score propelled the drama swiftly onwards yet allowed moments of heartfelt, lyrical beauty, particularly in fleeting violin solos that fittingly evoked Vaughan Williams’s Lark Ascending.’ Clare Stevens, Birmingham Post
‘This year George Vass has come up with a sea-and-sky double bill, one part of which marks the First World War in a particularly moving way.
‘Cecilia McDowall’s Airborne is inspired by accounts of the new breed of fighter pilots in the First World War, the men who took to the skies in contraptions of canvas, wood and string. The five scenes move from the tentative start of a love-affair between pilot Johnny and Alice, a nurse, and ends with her witnessing Johnny’s death in a dog-fight. The staging was straightforward, a section of a plane summing up its fragility, and two stagehands with model aircraft acting out the fights.
‘McDowall’s music soared lyrically and explored the chamber group’s breadth of sonority; it has an enviable melodic directness and neatly opened and closed with a ghostly reference to ‘Roses of Picardy’. Donna Lennard’s generous soprano (Alice) caught the spirit of the music. I can imagine Henry Manning’s elegant baritone (Johnny) and classic good looks continuing to be held in high regard.’ Classical Source
The Nova Music Opera double bill tour continues to the Canterbury Festival (26 October) and the Barber Institute, Birmingham (1 November).
Nova Music Opera presents a double bill of Stephen McNeff’s opera, Prometheus Drown’d, a chilling exploration of the strange circumstances surrounding the death of Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1822 at Livorno in Tuscany and Cecilia McDowall’s new opera, Airborne, a joint commission from the Presteigne Festival and Nova Music supported by the Arts Council of Wales and the Bevis Foundation. The first performances will be given in London, Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead, on 29/30 and 31 July. The librettist of Airborne, Andy Rashleigh writes:
‘Drawn from logbooks and diaries of First World War pilots, a young airman in the Royal Flying Corps shares the elation and terror of this new, lonely, exhilarating form of warfare. The dangers of early flight and aerial combat bring tension to the narrative. His tale is edged with dark humour and heightened by his poignant love for the young nurse he left behind on the ground. It is the story of the Universal Airman.’
The part of the pilot, Johnny, is sung by the baritone, Henry Manning, and that of the nurse, Alice, the soprano,Donna Lennard.
The tour continues to the Presteigne Festival (21 August), Canterbury Festival (26 October) and the Barber Institute, Birmingham (1 November). More information about booking can be found at:
Sospiri gave the first performance of a new choral work, Standing as I do before God, as part of a WW1 commemoration programme on The Choir, Sunday, 6 July. This work sets words recorded on the eve of Nurse Edith Cavell’s execution on 12 October, 1915. Edith Cavell’s words are set in context by the poet, Seán Street. The soloist is soprano, Susanna Fairbairn and conductor, Christopher Watson. After the War, in May 1919, Edith Cavell’s body was brought back to Britain for a state funeral at Westminster Abbey and then buried at Norwich Cathedral. The Allies acclaimed Edith as a martyr. Within eight weeks of her death, recruitment into the British Army had doubled; this was in the days before conscription.
During the week before and after Christmas the BBC Singers perform carols requested by BBC Radio 3 listeners each morning on BBC Radio 3 Breakfast. On Thursday, 19 December Cecilia McDowall’s new carol, Before the paling of the stars was broadcast. The carol is also on the BBC Singers cover CD of the Christmas edition of the BBC Music Magazine.
‘McDowall’s lyrical gifts make her a natural carol writer. In her Christina Rossetti setting, Before the paling of the stars, the haunting melody, first emerging out of a mysterious organ texture, is given a variety of expressive treatment, ever growing in confidence as we ‘hail the King of glory’.’ Church Music Quarterly 2013
Cecilia McDowall has again been shortlisted in the British Composer Awards. Her antiphon, O Oriens, commissioned by the Choir of Merton College, Oxford, conductor Benjamin Nicholas, has been shortlisted in the Liturgical category with Gabriel Jackson and Matthew Martin. The winner will be announced on December 3.
The first woman to chair the Bar Council, an award-winning composer, a current and a former Vice-Chancellor will all receive honorary awards at this year’s graduation ceremonies at the University of Portsmouth.
Professor John Craven, Lady Justice Hallett, Cecilia McDowall and Professor Sir William Wakeham will receive their honorary degrees during the graduation ceremonies taking place this month. Cecilia graduates as a Doctor of Music on 23 July.
Naxos release a new CD of choral works, all settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, sung by the Oxford-based choir, Sospiri, conductor, Christoper Watson. Included in these fine settings is, The Lord is Good by Cecilia McDowall which was short-listed in the liturgical category in the British Composer Awards, 2012.
On Sunday, 24 March, Robert Quinney gave his last recital at Westminster Abbey before taking up the post of director of music at Peterborough Cathedral. He performed Buxtehude’s Praeludium in D minor, Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor and Cecilia McDowall’s new organ work, Sacred and hallowed fire, one of three organ works inspired by George Herbert. The last of the trilogy, Church bells beyond the stars, will be performed by John Kitchen on 18 May at the conclusion of the Edinburgh Society of Organists conference.
Night Flight – inspired by the life of the American aviatrix, Harriet Quimby – was premiered in Arizona, US, by the Grammy award winning Phoenix Chorale, conductor, Charles Bruffy in early March.
Cecilia McDowall’s Dancing Fish, for soprano saxophone and string orchestra, has been selected from a long list of works for performance by the renowned I Solisti Veneti ensemble in Padua, Italy, on Friday March 8, 2013.
McDowall’s ‘buoyant’ Christmas carol, Of a Rose, has been recorded by the Choir of Worcester College, Oxford, under the direction of Stephen Farr. It was selected as Classical CD of the Week by the Daily Telegraph and as CD of the month by BBC Music Magazine. It includes 11 premiere recordings, including works by Peter Maxwell Davies, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Richard Allain, Matthew Martin, Gabriel Jackson, Judith Bingham, Cecilia McDowall and Thomas Hyde.
‘The entire sequence, wisely chosen and sung with the utmost expressiveness and skill is a pure delight.’ Daily Telegraph. ‘Stephen Farr directs delectably sensitive performances, and the sound is immaculate’. BBC Music Magazine.
The Christmas carol, Cantate, Astra, (a setting of words by Christie Dickason) was sung by the BBC Singers, conductor, David Hill, in a concert of Christmas music featuring Nico Muhly’s Seven Antiphons for organ relayed from the Chapel of Tonbridge School.
Cecilia McDowall has again been shortlisted in the British Composer Awards. Her anthem, The Lord is Good, commissioned by the Oxford-based choir, Sospiri, conductor Christopher Watson, has been shortlisted in the Liturgical category with Jonathan Harvey and Francis Grier. The winner was announced on December 3 as Francis Grier.
On 22 October the Delphian label released a new CD, Advent at Merton, sung by the Choir of Merton College, Oxford, Peter Phillips & Benjamin Nicholas, conductors, Anna Steppler, organ. Many new works are featured with works by Byrd, Victoria and Praetorius. A new set of O Antiphons, especially commissioned for the Merton Choirbook, are by Howard Skempton, Sir John Tavener, Rihards Dubra, Gabriel Jackson, Cecilia McDowall (O Oriens) Matthew Martin and Eriks Esenvalds. Delphian DCD34122. ‘One of the UK’s finest choral ensembles’ – Gramophone, 2011.
Retorica, Harriet Mackenzie and Philippa Mo (violins) and Sarah-Jane Bradley (viola) will perform the Presteigne Festival commission, Rousseau’s Execution, at the Barber Institute (Birmingham) on 19 October, at St St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol, (25 October) at the Royal Welsh College of Music, Cardiff (26 October) and Manchester Harris College, Oxford (27 October).
Dutton Epoch have released a new CD of McDowall premiere recordings. Performances by the Ulster Orchestra, Orchestra Nova and the Choir of Merton College singing ‘Shipping Forecast’, conductor George Vass.
Retorica, Harriet Mackenzie and Philippa Mo (violins) and Sarah-Jane Bradley (viola) will give the first performance of Rousseau’s Execution, inspired by Rousseau’s Dictionnaire de Musique.
The Choir of Merton College, Oxford, are in the process of creating a Merton Choirbook and on 4 May in the College Chapel, the choir, under the direction of Benjamin Nicholas and Peter Phillips gave the premiere of the complete set of seven Magnificat Antiphons. These were by Howard Skempton, Sir John Tavener, Rihards Dubra, Gabriel Jackson, Cecilia McDowall, Matthew Martin and Eriks Esenvalds.
The Advent Antiphon by Cecilia McDowall is O Oriens and is available from OUP.
A BBC-led weekend of over 100 live music events across the UK – from Cornwall to the Shetland Isles and Belfast to Birmingham – launching the nationwide countdown to the London 2012 Festival. At London’s Cadogan Hall, the City of London Sinfonia and conductor Stephen Layton retrace the steps of Captain Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in music, images and words. Excerpts from Vaughan Williams’s film score Scott of the Antarctic are interwoven with moving readings from Scott’s diary, and there will be a world premiere broadcast of Cecilia McDowall’s Seventy Degrees Below Zero, setting words by poet Seán Street inspired by Scott’s own letters.
The first half of the Conquering the Antarctic programme (Scott of the Antarctic and Seventy Degrees Below Zero) from Cadogan Hall can be heard on iPlayer until Sunday morning 11 March at this link 3 hours into the programme (12.00pm):
‘In music of rich neo-Romantic expressivity McDowall uncovered the anguish, pain and desperation beneath Scott’s stiff upper lip.’ The Times
‘Working with poet Seán Street, McDowall sets Scott’s farewell letter to Kathleen, with string writing that offers a contemporary equivalent of Vaughan Williams. It was also imbued with Brittenesque colouring, by virtue of Robert Murray’s tenor and the horn lines. In the final setting, To my widow, passion and pain struck home.’ The Guardian
‘McDowall has produced an eloquent and affecting work, which I should like to hear again. Her music received splendid advocacy from Robert Murray who was strongly supported by Layton and his orchestra.’ Seen and Heard
On 3 February Seventy degrees below zero, for tenor and chamber orchestra receives its premiere at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham given by Robert Murray, tenor, and the City of London Sinfonia, conducted by Stephen Layton. Hugh Bonneville narrates. The tour continues to the Corn Exchange, Cambridge (4 February), St David’s Hall, Cardiff (7 February), Cheltenham Town Hall (8 February) and the Cadogan Hall (3 March)
This landmark concert tour retraces the steps of Captain Scott’s expedition to the South Pole in music, images and words. There will be a performance of Vaughan Williams, Sinfonia Antarctica and excerpts from Vaughan Williams’s film score, Scott of the Antarctic, interwoven with readings from Scott’s diary, along with the world premiere of Cecilia McDowall’s new work, Seventy degrees below zero, setting words from Scott’s poignant final letter, ‘To my widow’ as well as words by poet Seán Street, who uses as his inspiration extracts from the Scott journals.
‘In 2009 Heather Lane, Librarian and Keeper of the Scott Polar Research Institute, invited me to the institute and museum to view the diaries and the letters written by Scott in the last months of his life, including his acutely poignant letter addressed To my widow. We discussed how this letter and Scott’s Journals could be the focus of a new work, commissioned to mark the centenary of Scott and the ‘conquering of the Antarctic’, a rich resource on which to draw. I felt it would also be interesting to present Scott’s words in a contemporary poetic context and so asked the poet, Seán Street, if he would write two poems especially for the occasion which could throw a new emphasis on the past. The delicate imagery of Seán’s poem, The Ice Tree, casts a glacial light over the passage of time, as if looking at the past down through the telescope of the ice core. I found the restrained, personal writings of Scott, set against a backdrop of human endeavour and resilience in such inhospitable terrain, deeply affecting. For the title I took a phrase from Scott’s letter to his wife; ‘Dear, it is not easy to write because of the cold – 70 degrees below zero.’‘ Cecilia McDowall
On 26 January (the Anvil, Basingstoke), 27 January (St John’s, Smith Square, London) and 28 January (Fairfield Halls, Croydon) Jeremy Huw Williams, baritone, and the London Mozart Players will be giving the English performances of the PRS Beyond Borders commission of Theatre of Tango. It was first performed by Jeremy Huw Williams, David Juritz, violin solo, and the Welsh Chamber Orchestra, conductor Anthony Hose, under the title, Tales from South America, at the Beaumaris Festival, Anglesey, Wales. Due to a copyright issue this orchestral song cycle has now been re-set, using poems by the poet, Seán Street, all set in an exciting tango idiom.
On 22 January Ave Regina, one of the selected anthems for the Choirbook for the Queen, was featured on The Choir. It receives more performances this year, including Peterborough Cathedral, Brentwood Cathedral, Gloucester Cathedral and Sheffield Cathedral.
‘A project involving community choirs, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, poet Alan Spence and composer Cecilia McDowall has been nominated for an Arts & Business Scotland’s community award. Sponsored by oil company TOTAL, the project led to the composition of a 15-minute cantata, Northlight, which was given its premiere by the RSNO, RSNO Chorus and the six community choirs which took part at Aberdeen Music Hall on 6 October.’ Classical Music Magazine
A 60th Birthday Celebration for Cecilia McDowall presented by Nova Music. A concert to include works by Bach, Purcell, Byrd and Mozart as well as Radnor Songs for soprano and orchestra, Dancing Fish for soprano sax and orchestra, Joy and Woe are woven fine (an Epithalmion, a premiere), Ave maris stella, the piano trio, Cavatina at Midnight and a selection of shorter choral works.
The video of the premiere can be seen at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJyYX10Y-yg&feature=related
The cantata, Northlight, was commissioned by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and will open the RSNO concert season in the Aberdeen Music Hall on Thursday, 6 October, 2011, performed by a combined North Eastern Community Chorus comprising people involved in the Northlight Community Composition project, members of the RSNO Chorus and the RSNO, conducted by Christian Kluxen. Northlight is based on the idea of ‘renewal’, an opportunity for both regeneration and looking to the future and is a setting of words by the Scottish poet, Alan Spence. At the centre of the work sits After the rain, which is a setting of a poem by Christie Dickason which evokes the beauty of the Scottish landscape. Susan Nickalls writes, in Classical Music Magazine, ‘in the spirit of Northlight’s theme of renewal, McDowall has written a version for piano accompaniment and optional perciussion so that choirs without the luxury of a chamber orchestra to hand are able to give future performances’.
Ave Maria for SSA is broadcast on Radio 3 at 5pm from the Presteigne Festival and can be found on iplayer and is available until 9 October.
The programme includes work by Michael Tippett, Gabriel Jackson, Eric Whitacre, Joe Duddell, Miskinis and Joseph Phibbs and other choirs include, Conspirare and San Fransisco Girls’ Chorus
On 15 June, the BBC gave extensive coverage to a new work by Cecilia McDowall, Shipping Forecast, which was commissioned by the Portsmouth Festival Choir (conductor, Andrew Cleary) to celebrate its 40 Anniversary. It received its first performance on Saturday, 18 June, at the Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral, Old Portsmouth at 7.30. The work is inspired by the rhythm and the beauty of the Shipping Forecast, the well-loved general synopsis of sea-area forecasts and coastal stations, described by the poet, Seán Street, as the ‘cold poetry of information’. BBC Radio 4, BBC Breakfast, BBC News 24, Radio 2 have given information about the commission and background to the work and more can be found at this link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-13773797 .
The choral work, Shipping Forecast is a setting of two evocative poems by Seán Street: Donegal and Naming and another movement is a setting of the Psalm 107: 23-26 | 28-29: They that go down to the sea in ships, the text often read to those about to set sail. This movement can be sung separately and liturgically as an anthem.
Date of publication for Shipping Forecast: Oxford University Press will be publishing Shipping Forecast at the start of August, this year. More details to follow,
Looking for ideas for your choir this Christmas? Do take a look at Cecilia McDowall’s Christmas works list.
In 2007 OUP published the fifteen minute Christmas Cantata, Christus natus est.
Reviews: ‘The Christmas cantata, Christus natus est is a hit: an absolute delight from start to finish scored for solo soprano, mixed chorus, children’s choir and small orchestra (other possibilties, too). . . try to find the time to hear this disc; I am sure you will not be disappointed’. International Record Review
Also – ‘This is a piece which, if I were king, would be done in musical schools every year!’ Music & Vision Web Review
Scored for SATB, solo soprano, children’s choir (optional), this delightful cantata exists in three accompanying versions:
a) chamber orchestra
b) brass quintet, organ and percussion (1 player)
OUP published Now may we singen in a collection of contemporary carols in the New Horizons series, The Ivy and the Holly, issue date 20 August 2008.
Cradle Song for SA and piano is also published by OUP in For Him All Stars.
Talking Turkeys!! (published by Gemini Publications) is a lighthearted setting of the Benjamin Zephaniah poem. A Christmas carol with a difference, it is scored for SATB, piano, double bass and glock.
Of a Rose is published by Novello in the Christmas carol collection, Noël 2.
Other carols for SATB include the a cappella Annunciation, Cantate Astra – published by Gemini Publications.
View a full list of Cecilia McDowall’s Christmas music.
On 26 May Jeremy Huw Williams, David Juritz and the Welsh Chamber Orchestra, conductor Anthony Hose, gave the first performance of Tales from South America at the Beaumaris Festival, Anglesey, Wales. This orchestral song cycle is a setting of poems by Borges and Neruda set in an exciting tango idiom. As part of this Beyond Borders joint commission there will be four subsequent performances of Tales from South America; in Wrexham, 6 October (WCO), Dolgellau, 7 October (WCO) and Basingstoke, 26 January (LMP) and Croydon, 28 January (LMP).
On 8 May two songs from the cycle, Radnor Songs (a setting of poems by Simon Munday, soprano soloist, Rachel Nicholls with Orchestra Nova, conductor George Vass) were broadcast on the Radio 3 programme, Sunday Morning, 10.00am – Midday.
On 11 May the Choir of the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music, conducted by the artistic director, Christopher Batchelor, sang Preces and Responses as part of the service of Choral Evensong on Radio 3 at 4.00pm. It was broadcast again on 15 May, 4pm.
On Thursday, 12 May, Christopher Batchelor and the Festival Choir performed Alma Redemptoris Mater, the introit, I have done, and Psallite Domino, an a cappellaAscensiontide anthem, on In Tune with Sean Rafferty.
The following day, 13 May the choir sang at the opening concert of the South Bank Centre festival, Chorus, at a lunctime concert in the Purcell Room of Cecilia McDowall’s a cappella choral music.
Cecilia went over to Chicago with OUP and with British choral agent, Choral Connections, to the impressive American Choral Directors Association National Conference. The ACDA Choral Journal wrote of her newly published A Fancy of Folksongs;
‘Cecilia McDowall has garnered increased recent attention thanks to her rich and colourful compositions. It seems that every text she touches turns to a golden composition full of warm dissonances and unexpected harmonic progressions. Her skill in creating a wide spectrum of shifting colours using only unaccompanied voices is a fascinating accomplishment. Now McDowall has turned away from her recent tradition of Latin and other sacred texts to provide a set of charming gems – a fancy, as she calls it – of English folk songs. McDowall shows the art of arranging at its best. Each arrangement is imbued with McDowall’s imaginative surprises and exciting harmonic structure, but is done in such a way that the arrangement is accessible by choirs with varied skill levels. Any choir would find these folk songs challenging yet accessible.’
Choral Journal 2011
The Orgelbüchlein Project is a long running project to complete Bach’s unfinished work, curated by the renowned organist, William Whitehead. In Bach’s mini-manuscript, about the size of a paperback bestseller, he inscribed the title of 164 Chorales, but only composed 46 of them. The blank pages, ‘ghost’ chorales, will be fleshed out one by one over the next few years by composers using the given melody. The variety of styles in the eventual ‘Complete Orgelbüchlein’ will be enormous; everything from recreations of what Bach might have written to contemporary, creative responses to the melodies. Cecilia McDowall is one of the composers who has written a chorale prelude based on Chorale 119 (336) BWV 258. The first performance was given by Ian Tindale at Selwyn College Chapel, 23 January 2011. Future phases of the project will take place in Glasgow, Manchester, Wimbledon and York. Site-specific composers and players will come together in the creation of the new works. Educational workshops will involve school-age students in working on the project- the beauty of Orgelbüchlein is that the compositional techniques, at base, are very simple; the setting of a melody to an accompaniment. Needless to say Bach’s ’46’ provide an endless feast of inspiration for melodic setting. More information about the project as it unfolds is available on the Orgelbüchlein Project Facebook page.
Cecilia McDowall was again shortlisted for the British Composer Awards. Her anthem Deus, Portus Pacis (commissioned for the 2009 Festival of St Cecilia by the Musicians Benevolent Fund) was shortlisted for the Liturgical award.
Oxford University Press has announced the signing of Cecilia McDowall as an Oxford composer. The OUP press release states that ‘McDowall’s music is praised for its originality, directness and integrity, and has won her widespread acclaim. Her music is as at home in the concert hall as it is in the cathedral, and she writes effectively for professional musicians, amateurs, and children.’
Cecilia McDowall’s Tango Oscuro is featured on Dancing in the Dark – a new Chaconne Brass CD from Deux Elles (catalogue number DXL1141).
The CD is available from Deux Elles Classical Recordings
A new CD of Cecilia McDowall choral music, CDLX 7230, has been released on the Dutton Epoch label.
Works included are Laudate (2008), Radnor Songs (2005, revised 2009) to words by Simon Mundy, A Canterbury Mass (2007), the anthem I have done what is mine to do (2006), the Christmas carol Now may we singen (2007) and the cantata Five Seasons (2006) to words by Christie Dickason.
The CD is available from Dutton Vocalion.
GRAMOPHONE REVIEW (2010) (See CDs)
With consistently top-notch sonics and helpful presentation, this well-filled and most enterprising collection earns a strong recommendation.
Cecilia McDowall was commissioned by the Musicians Benevolent Fund to write an anthem, Deus, portus pacis, for the Festival of St Cecilia, which took place at St Paul’s Cathedral in London at 11am on 18 November 2009. The preacher was the Revd Dr Cally Hammond from Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and the readers were Richard Suart and Ruthie Henshall.
Further information is available from the Musicians Benevolent Fund
Deus portus pacis is published by OUP (November 2009)
Cecilia McDowall’s The Moon Dances are featured on a new CD of British music, out of the cool, from flautist Susan Milan and pianist Andrew Ball, on the Metier label (Divine Art). There’s also music by Richard Rodney Bennett, Robert Saxton, Arthur Butterworth, David Heath and Brian Lock.
The Moon Dances . . . this versatile and enjoyable piece opens with bright energy, and takes in a carnivalesque element. The slow movement establishes a darkening mien. It is crepuscular and insinuating and the flute’s ‘lost in the forest’ tone, plaintive and regretful, is eventually displaced by the firefly glitter of the finale. Classic Online 2010
Cecilia McDowall’s song If there are angels is on the 2009 ABRSM Grade 8 Singing syllabus. The song is published in Boosey and Hawkes Song Collection Volume 2, and a recording is available here, for study purposes.
[This] volume saves the best till last. Cecilia McDowall’s If there are angels, genuinely of today both in music and in the poem by Caroline Natzler, deserves to be in every singer’s repertoire.
David Owen Norris, Sheet Music Review September 2006