Dr Shirley Thompson is a distinguished composer, visionary artist and cultural activist who has composed extensively for television, film, theatre, dance and opera. Her music is performed and screened worldwide and often described as “superbe” (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 to celebrate Her Majesty the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002 and the concept was latterly assumed as a framework for the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony. She has also composed extensively for TV/film, theatre, dance and opera production, always driven by the belief in the transformative power of music to affect social, cultural and political change an approach that has been unique in the genre.
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 in Newham. After studying Musicology at the University of Liverpool and then specialising in Composition at Goldsmiths’ College, her first major commission came from the Greenwich International Festival, when she composed a chamber orchestral work entitled Visions, performed by the Greenwich Ensemble.
Since her 2-Act opera, A Child of the Jago, Thompson has composed a number of music theatre works. The Woman Who Refused to Dance (2007)was specially commissioned for the opening of the Parliamentary exhibition, British Slave Trade: Abolition, Parliament and People. Spirit Songs (2007)an orchestral song-trilogy was performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre and to commemorate 100 days of Barack Obama’s presidency, Thompson was commissioned by South Bank Centre to compose Voice of Change (2009). The BBC Concert Orchestra Principals and vocal soloists performed this work.
She is currently working with the Minerva Scientifica/Franklin Effect project (since 2015) with the Electric Voice Theatre and Judith Weir, Master of the Queen’s Music as mentor. Here four women composers and four women scientists collaborate to produce musical artworks that integrate scientific research, composition and performance. The resulting pieces have been performed at venues including the Science Museum, the Anatomy Museum, Tete a Tete: The Opera Festival, and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. A CD of the works, The Franklin Effect, is now available on First Hand records and has garnered significant media attention.