Professor Shirley J. Thompson OBE

Alumna Professor Shirley J. Thomson OBE (BA Hons Music 1979) is a composer, artistic director, Professor of Music, conductor, film-maker, writer, violinist, and cultural activist.

Renowned for her pioneering style of mixing classical with modern musical styles, Shirley has long been a champion for bringing new audiences to classical music and the operatic scene. Having been commissioned to produce a large-scale piece for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, Shirley composed and conducted New Nation Rising, A 21st Century Symphony, making her the first woman to have conducted and composed a symphony within the last 40 years. The symphony was performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with a total of almost 200 performers, and was later assumed as a framework for the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympics.  

Before studying Music at the University of Liverpool, Shirley began playing the violin and choral singing with youth orchestras and choirs in London. Since then, she has become a powerful voice in the contemporary classical world through her pioneering sound and vision.

Shirley J. Thompson’s collection of work includes chamber orchestral work Visions (visions of self-determination for Caribbean nations), opera A Child of the Jago (1997), Heroines of Opera series of chamber operas including The Woman Who Refused to Dance (2007), and A Psalm to Windrush: for the Brave & Ingenious which was created to commemorate the 70th Anniversary in 2018.

Shirley has composed for a broad range of media, including symphonies, ballets, operas and music for television, film and theatre. She has written music for film and television including being selected at a Top 20 BBC TV Theme for the BBC drama series South of the Border.

Through her passion for dance, Shirley has composed music for multiple contemporary choreographers. Perhaps her most famous dance score Shift, part of the award-winning ballet PUSH, has been performed in all major opera house worldwide on the ballet’s international tour.

Shirley has been involved with a range of impressive touring artworks including the Minerva Scientifica/Franklin Effect project, a collaboration between four women composers and four women scientists which has been performed at venues such as the Science Museum and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Shirley is a Professor in Music at the University of Westminster, and has received many honours and awards for her work. In 2019, Shirley was honoured with an OBE for Services to Music in the New Year’s Honour List.

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