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Composer Focus: Cecilia McDowall

Award-winning British composer Cecilia McDowall was born in London in 1951. She is particularly well-recognised as a choral composer, and in 2014 won the British Composer Award for Choral Music. However, she has also written some beautiful chamber music, including Cavatina at Midnight (which Scordatura performed earlier in the year) and Falling Angels (which we will be performing as part of our celebration of Venice on the 14th June).

McDowall grew up in a musical household (her father was the principal flautist at the Royal Opera House) but only came to consider composition seriously as a career later in life. As a student at Trinity College of Music she won composition prizes, despite officially studying the piano. She then taught musicianship at the Yehudi Menuhin School and at Trinity as, in her words, a career in composition did not seem realistic. It was not until McDowall was in her 40s that she decided to pursue professional composition seriously. She returned to university for a Masters in Composition, and studied with Robert Saxton, Joseph Horovitz and Adam Gorb. She received her first commission from soprano Gillian Humphries and has gone on to be commissioned by organisations including the BBC, the Welsh Chamber Opera, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Westminster Cathedral and the City of London Sinfonia. Her Da Vinci Requiem, marking the 500th anniversary of Da Vinci’s death, was premiered at the Southbank Centre this May.

McDowall’s music is influenced by her interest in art, literature and dance. For instance, Falling Angels (which we will be performing in June) draws inspiration from the atmospheric descriptions of Venice’s decaying beauty in John Berendt’s book ‘City of Falling Angels’. McDowall’s interest in tango also finds its way into several of her works, including in Not Just a Place dark memories from an old tango hall, which Scordatura performed in its very first series of concerts in 2017. In an interview with her publishers Oxford University Press McDowall said that she felt that perhaps leaving her composition career late had made her more determined. This is certainly borne out by her impressive body of works, and we look forward to performing many more of them.

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