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Shirley Thompson Music » About


Born and brought up in east London to Jamaican parents, Shirley J. Thompson has gained a reputation for eclecticism, mixing and merging musical languages to produce distinct 21st Century musical fusions.

A ground-breaking composer, Shirley J. Thompson is the first woman in Europe to have composed and conducted a symphony in the last 40 years. ‘New Nation Rising, A 21st Century Symphony’ has been recorded by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and is a ground-breaking work, that employs the RPO with two choirs, solo singers, a rapper and dhol drummers in an epic musical story celebrating London’s thousand-year history. Shirley J. Thompson sees no boundaries in musical styles and fuses Contemporary Classical orchestrations with Popular and World Music styles.

Shirley J. Thompson’s music is performed, screened and broadcast worldwide. Having co-scored music for the award-winning ballet PUSH starring Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant the international tour has been performed in over 20 countries including performances at Saddler’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, 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; and City Center, New York, USA.

She was commissioned to compose and perform for the opening of the Parliamentary exhibition: The British Slave Trade: Abolition, Parliament and People commemorating 250 years of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in 2007. The Woman Who Refused to Dance for Singer, Speaker and Orchestra was premiered for the launch of this event and Spirit of the Middle Passage for Solo Voices, Speaker & Orchestra was performed by The Philharmonia Orchestra in the QEH as part of the Freedom & Culture International Creative Forum.

To commemorate 100 days of Barack Obama’s presidency she was commissioned by the South Bank Centre to compose Voice of Change for Chamber Orchestra, Solo Voices, Speaker and Video in April 2009 and performers included Principals of the BBC Concert Orchestra with soloists Yolanda Grant-Thompson Mark Delisser and Katherine Sayles.

Most recently she arranged and performed a programme of works for the launch of Harambe Endeavour at the House of Lords with soloists Abigail Kelly, Maria Martin and Jennifer Moore.

Shirley Thompson is Reader in Music at the University of Westminster and was announced in the Evening Standard’s ‘Power List of Britain’s 100 Most Influential Black People 2010’.


Shirley Thompson’s musical experience began with her playing the violin for various youth symphony orchestras in London, as well as choral singing with local choirs. She thereby had a thorough grounding in a wealth of orchestral and choral works. After studying Music at the University of Liverpool and then specialising in Composition at Goldsmiths’ College with Professor Stanley Glasser, her first major commission came from the Greenwich International Festival, when she wrote a chamber work entitled ‘Visions’ which was performed by the Greenwich Ensemble.

After writing several instrumental and vocal ensemble pieces, Thompson started writing for film and television. Her music for the BBC drama series, South of the Border was selected as a Top 20 BBC TV Theme and her score for the film, Dreaming Rivers also earned a prize at the Mannheim Film Festival.

Always excited about working in contemporary dance and ballet, Thompson was commissioned to compose music for the young choreographers and dancers at the Royal Ballet School including Edward Watson now one of the Royal Ballet’s star dancers.. Her scores for dance continued with music for the renowned choreographer/dancer, Russell Maliphant.

More music for the stage includes her score for the stage play, ‘The Lodger, which ran at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. Her full scale, 2-Act opera, A Child of the Jago ran at the Royal Festival Hall and she was nominated for a Woman of the Year award in recognition of her contribution to the Arts.

It was with her own chamber orchestra, The Shirley Thompson Ensemble set up in 1995, that she developed her pioneering style of fusing contemporary classical orchestrations with popular dance and vocal styles. She also began successful experimentation with improvisatory methods, finding versatile musicians like herself that could glide effortlessly between contemporary classical and diverse Popular and World Music styles.

Shirley J. Thompson was recently featured in the BBC TV series ‘Diverse Orchestras’, presenting composers working innovatively for the genre.

Indigo Music 2010