The music of distinguished composer, Shirley J. Thompson is performed and screened worldwide and often described as “beautiful and powerful” (Le Figaro). A visionary artist and cultural activist, 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 is an epic musical story celebrating London’s thousand-year history, and one in which the RPO is accompanied by two choirs, solo singers, a rapper and dhol drummers, a total of nearly 200 performers. This extraordinary work was originally commissioned for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002 and the concept is considered a predecessor of the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony. She has also composed extensively for TV/film, theatre, dance and opera.
In 1995 she launched, conducted and artistically directed The Shirley Thompson Ensemble at the South Bank Centre, her own ensemble of instrumental soloists, singers, dancers and visual artists. It was with this group that she created ground breaking compositions which seamlessly integrate contemporary classical music orchestration with improvisation, as well as fusing pop music (reggae, soul, gospel, hip hop, township) and world music styles. She also developed compositions for the Ensemble that assimilates stills/video imagery, spoken word expressionism and contemporary dance for the concert stage. Through her original compositions she has subsequently become a leading exponent of theatrical music composition and performance.
An aficionado of dance, Thompson has created music for contemporary choreographers, including commissions for the Royal Ballet School’s choreographic workshops, where she worked with the now celebrated Royal Ballet star, Edward Watson. Her most famous dance score for solo cello and string orchestra, Shift, forms a part of the award-winning ballet, PUSH starring Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant, whose international tour has led to performances at major venues in over 30 countries including: Sadler’s Wells and London Coliseum, England; Theater Heilbronn, Germany; Athens Arena, Greece; Le Metropole, Lausanne, Switzerland; Opera de Lyon, Theater Champs-Elysees, Odyssud Theatre (Toulouse) France; Teatro Comunale, (Modena); Teatro Arcimboldi (Milan); Auditorium Conciliazone di Roma (Rome); Teatro alla Fenice (Venice); San Carlo (Naples) Italy; Teatro Real (Madrid) Spain; Moscow State Opera House (Russia); St George’s Theatre, New Zealand; Sydney Opera House, Australia, City Center, New York, USA and Marinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, Russia. The many awards that the production has won include, the Olivier Awards, a Time Out Award, the National Dance Awards (choreography) and the South Bank Show Dance Awards.
Music for the theatrical stage includes her score for the play, The Lodger (Theatre Royal, Stratford East) and A Child of the Jago, an opera in Two Acts presented by London’s Purcell Room at the Royal Festival Hall. A Child of the Jago earned her a nomination for the Woman of the Year Lunch award in recognition of her contribution to the Arts. Thompson is additionally in demand for film and television composition, and her credits include her award-winning music for the BBC drama series, South of the Border, making her the first woman to compose and musically direct for a major drama series at BBC Lime Street Studios. Film credits include Dreaming Rivers, and joint directing as well as music score credits for Memories in Mind and Anansi Fantasia. As well as working as a professional composer, she trained at the BBC as a documentaries filmmaker in the 1990s out of her passion for excavating and exposing previously submerged and heroic narratives.
Other notable compositions and performances include The Woman Who Refused to Dance (2007) for the opening of the Parliamentary exhibition, British Slave Trade: Abolition, Parliament and People; Spirit Songs (2007) performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre. To commemorate 100 days of Barack Obama’s presidency, Thompson was commissioned by Southbank Centre to compose Voice of Change (2009) with Principals of the BBC Concert Orchestra (Time Scale) and vocalist, Mark Delisser playing Barack Obama.
In 2012 Southbank Centre premiered her latest work, Mandela Tales, in the Purcell Room at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, a beautiful new music theatre production for children, devised, composed, directed and produced by Thompson to a sell-out audience at the Imagine Children’s Festival. Featuring a number of compelling stories from across a variety of regions and traditions across Africa, Thompson enhances the fantastical experience of timeless legends through the power of storytelling, original live music, video projection and dance. After working with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra over several years she initiated and recently toured with the renowned orchestra to Jamaica for an unprecedented series of concerts, in sold-out venues, as well as educational workshops in schools and colleges.
Shirley J. Thompson is Reader in Music at the University of Westminster and has served for over 20 years on several national arts institution panels, including the London Arts Board, the Arts Council of Great Britain and the Newham Council Cultural Forum. She has been named in the ‘Power List of Britain’s Top 100 Most Influential Black People in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014’.
Recently Shirley J. Thompson had a successful premiere of Mandela Tales, performed by the famous Gordonstoun School, in Cape Town, South Africa for GREAT British Week and is presently working towards the premiere of her new opera.