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Shirley J Thompson

Composer, Conductor & Reader in Music, University of Westminster


One of britain’s most innovative composers, Shirley has created music extensively for TV/film, theatre, dance and opera production.

She made history when she became the first woman in Europe in 40 years to compose and conduct a symphony. 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 year her work has been commissioned for installation at the Venice Biennale and she is currently making a programme for the BBC about Florence B Price, the first African-American women to compose a symphony and have it performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1932.

She also appeared as keynote speaker on Diversity in Classical Music at Classical Next Festival 2017, and was founding member and keynote speaker at the first ever BBC Diversity in Classic Music conference in October 2016.

Shirley recently won a University of West Indies Luminary Award for outstanding contribution to culture globally, as well as a University of Westminster Chancellor’s Award for outstanding contribution to Research, Academic Enterprise and Teaching – she is a Reader in Composition and Performance at the institution.

She was the first female executive of the Association of Professional Composers and now serves as an elected member of the Classical Music Executive for the British Academy of Song Writers, Composers and Authors.

Shirley has been commissioned for several royal engagements, including Commonwealth Day performing for the Queen at Westminster Abbey in 1999, for the Queen’s summer party at Buckingham Palace in 2001, and opening the Stratford Cultural Quarter with the London Gala Orchestra with Prince Edward in attendance.

An aficionado of dance, Shirley has created music for contemporary choreographers, including commissions for the Royal Ballet School. Her most famous dance score for solo cello and string orchestra, Shift, forms a part of the award-winning ballet, PUSH.