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McDowall, Cecilia (b1951)
© Karina Lyburn

Cecilia McDowall

born: 1951
country: United Kingdom

Born in London in 1951, Cecilia McDowall is a composer whose music ‘constantly tweaks the ear with her range of spicy rhythms and colours, then suddenly produces a highly atmospheric and grippingly expressive interlude which is just as compelling’ (Gramophone). The many prizes she has won include the Choral category of the 2014 British (now Ivors) Composer Award, for Night flight, written to mark the centenary of American aviator Harriet Quimby’s pioneering flight across the English Channel. A recipient of two honorary doctorates, McDowall also received an honorary fellowship award from the Royal School of Church Music for her outstanding contribution to church music.

Often taking inspiration from extra-musical influences, Cecilia McDowall has developed an original and distinctive voice that speaks directly to listeners and performers alike. Her musical language is sufficiently versatile and adaptable to embrace instrumental and chamber pieces, orchestral scores, and works for the stage. She has received important commissions from, among others, the London Mozart Players (Rain, steam and speed, 2006), the City of London Sinfonia and the Scott Polar Research Institute (Seventy degrees below zero, 2012), Dulwich College (Some corner of a foreign field, 2015), the BBC Singers (When time is broke, 2016), The National Children’s Choir of Great Britain (Everyday wonders: The girl from Aleppo, 2018), and Wimbledon Choral Society (Da Vinci Requiem, 2019).

Music for the voice occupies a central position in McDowall’s catalogue, encompassing carols, song cycles, dramatic scenas, cantatas and opera. Her prolific output for choir ranges from intimate anthems and motets to large-scale settings for soloists, chorus and orchestra. Recent works include The angel of the battlefield, which sets words by the poet Seán Street and the founder of the American Red Cross, Clara Barton, in response to the latter’s time as a nurse in the American Civil War, and Pioneers of sound, in whose three movements McDowall sets texts by Tony Silvestri on Edison, Marconi and Hedy Lamarr, the last of whom was the co-inventor of frequency-hopping spread spectrum later incorporated into WiFi and Bluetooth technology. McDowall’s choral music is distinguished by a keen sensitivity to text, and vocal lines that are grateful to sing.

from notes by Paul Conway © 2021


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