At our Henleaze Concert Society concert on Saturday 9th June we will be joined by the Choir of Royal Holloway to perform (among other things) Cecilia McDowall’s Ave maris stella.
Cecilia McDowall was born in London in 1951 into a musical family. Her father was principal flautist at the Royal Opera House, and ran chamber groups, meaning the house was always full of musicians. Cecilia read music at the University of Edinburgh and continued her studies at Trinity College of Music in London. After graduating she taught music at Trinity and at the Yehudi Menuhin School for several years.
Although she had won awards and competitions for composing when she was a student, it was only after starting a family that she turned to it professionally. She now has a long list of published works, including many commissions from the BBC and from many leading orchestras, performers and choral groups. Her works are regularly broadcast on BBC radio, and many have been recorded. She won the British Composer Award in 2014 for choral music for her piece Night Flight, marking the centenary of the first woman – the American Harriet Quimby – to fly successfully across the English Channel (which unfortunately took place the day after the Titanic sank, so did not make the headlines!)
Ave maris stella [Hail, Star of the Sea], for solo soprano, choir and string orchestra, has been described as a ‘peace anthem’ and was written in 2001 for Portsmouth Grammar School Chamber Choir. The text is taken from the antiphon Ave maris stella, which dates back to at least the ninth century, and from Psalms 26 and 106 (“They that go down to the sea in ships…”). The work is in seven sections, beginning with tranquillity and gradually building to a tempestuous central section. The storm subsides, and the opening music returns, finishing peacefully.
The International Record Review described McDowall as having “a communicative gift that is very rare in modern music”, and the Choral Journal praised her “…rich and colourful compositions. It seems that every text she touches turns to a golden composition full of warm dissonances and unexpected harmonic progressions. Her skill in creating a wide spectrum of shifting colours using only unaccompanied voices is a fascinating accomplishment.”
Further information is available on Cecilia McDowall’s website.