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Dr Shirley J. Thompson - Cutting-edge music composer

Published:Sunday | August 26, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Dr Shirley J. Thompson, composer. - Contributed

Born and brought up in east London to Jamaican parents, Dr Shirley J. Thompson has gained a reputation for her innovative approach in 21st-century composition, fusing classical and popular music styles with elements of her cultural heritage. A cutting-edge composer, her music is performed, screened and broadcast worldwide. The Voice (UK) describes her as "One of Britain's most visionary, imaginative and pioneering composers".

Thompson's musical experience began with her playing the violin for youth symphony orchestras in London, as well as choral singing with local choirs in Newham. After studying music at the University of Liverpool and specialising in composition at Goldsmiths' College, her first major commission, titled Visions, was produced for the Greenwich International Festival. In 1995, Thompson established her own chamber orchestra, The Shirley Thompson Ensemble.

"I've had a vision of orchestral performances since childhood and was encouraged to compose for orchestra by Dr Olive Lewin in 1998 when I first came to Jamaica to perform with my own chamber orchestra at the Ward Theatre, as part of the Season of Excellence," Dr Thompson reminisced.

Thompson is the first woman in Europe to have composed and conducted a symphony within the last 40 years. New Nation Rising, A 21st Century Symphony, performed and recorded by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO), is an epic musical celebrating London's 1,000-year history. This extraordinary work was commissioned for the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002, and was latterly assumed as a conceptual framework for the recent 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.

Her score for the opera, A Child of the Jago, earned her a nomination for the Woman of the Year award in recognition of her contribution to the arts. Another notable composition, Voices of Change (2009), was commissioned by the Southbank Centre to commemorate 100 days of Barack Obama's presidency. Dr Thompson is reader in music at the University of Westminster and was named in the Evening Standard's 'Power List of Britain's 100 Most Influential Black People in 2010, 2011 and 2012'.

In 2012, her latest work, Mandela Tales, debuted to a sold-out audience at the Imagine Children's Festival. This children's music theatre production was devised, composed, directed and produced by Thompson, focusing on the fantastical experience of timeless African legends through the power of storytelling, original live music, and dance.

After working with the RPO over several years, she will tour with the renowned orchestra to Jamaica for an unprecedented series of concerts on September 13 and 15 and educational workshops. Her special composition, Jamaica Skies, symbolising the Jamaican striving for excellence, will be featured at this event.

The RPO's visit to Jamaica is being organised by the National Youth Orchestra of Jamaica, a non-profit organisation, with sponsorship from Digicel, NCB Capital Markets Limited and Supreme Ventures Limited. The events are officially endorsed and listed under the Jamaica 50 celebrations.

For further information on these events, contact the NYOJ at or 561-6252.