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Life and career
McDowall has been described by the International Record Review as having 'a communicative gift that is very rare in modern music' and Gramophone has said of her that 'she has an instinctive understanding of the medium allied to the ability to speak directly to the listener wholly without artifice'. Often inspired by extra-musical influences, her writing combines a rhythmic vitality with expressive lyricism 'which is, at times, intensely moving'. She read music at the University of Edinburgh continuing her studies at Trinity College of Music, London, later completing an MMus in composition. She studied with Joseph Horovitz, Robert Saxton and Adam Gorb. She has won many awards and has been short-listed seven times for the British Composer Awards. In 2014, she won the British Composer Award for choral music.
Cecilia McDowall's music has been commissioned and performed by leading choirs, including the BBC Singers, ensembles and at major festivals both in Britain and abroad and has been broadcast on BBC Radio and worldwide.
A commission from the Portsmouth Festival Choir, The Shipping Forecast, gained national media attention, in June 2011. The work reflects the mystery and force of the sea, drawing together the poetry of Seán Street, the psalm 'They that go down to the sea in ships', and the words of the shipping forecast itself.
Recent commissions include the Musicians' Benevolent Fund St Cecilia anthem for the service of St Cecilia at St Paul's Cathedral, sung by the joint choirs of Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral and St Paul's Cathedral, and liturgical works for Durham and Liverpool Cathedrals. Future works include commissions from the BBC for Scunthorpe Co-operative Junior Choir, the winner of the BBC Radio 3 2008 Choir of the Year: the Welsh Chamber Orchestra, Jeremy Huw Williams, baritone, David Juritz, violin, conductor, Anthony Hose at the Beaumaris Festival; the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. and Chorus in conjunction with the NE Community Choir for performance in Aberdeen in October, 2011: the City of London Sinfonia (a commission from the Scott Polar Research Institute to celebrate the centenary of Scott's death in 1912), performed in the Birmingham Symphony Hall in February, 2012; and in a new work for the 2012 Presteigne festival. The American choir, Phoenix Chorale, have recorded Three Latin Motets on the Chandos label (Spotless Rose: Hymns to the Virgin Mary).This CD won a Grammy award in February, 2009, and was nominated for Best Classical Album.
In 2010, Oxford University Press signed McDowall as an 'Oxford' composer and she is currently[when?] 'composer-in-residence' at Dulwich College, London. In 2015, she served on the panel for a Women Composers Competition of The Arcadian Singers of Oxford.
- Orchestral and large ensemble works
- Theatre of Tango for baritone solo, violin solo and chamber orchestra (2011)
- Crossing the Bridge for string orchestra (2011)
- Radnor Songs for soprano and chamber orchestra (2009)
- Great Hills for solo violin, two flutes and string orchestra (2007)
- Rain, Steam and Speed for chamber orchestra (2006)
- Dancing Fish for soprano saxophone and string orchestra (2005)
- Trumpet Concerto (Seraphim) for trumpet, strings and percussion (2002)
- Not Just a Place for violin and double bass solo and string orchestra (2001)
- Chamber music and solo works
- Are we on the same page? string quartet (2011)
- Skerry and Fjord for trombone and piano (2010)
- Time between Tides for violin, viola and cello (2010)
- Colour of Blossoms piano trio (2009)
- Cavatina at Midnight for clarinet, cello and piano or piano trio (2008)
- Strange violin, are you following me? for violin and piano (2008)
- Falling Angels for cello and piano (2007)
- Colour Is the Keyboard for piano (2007)
- Mein blaues Klavier for soprano saxophone and piano (2006)
- Century Dances for oboe (flute), clarinet and bassoon (2005)
- The Moon Dances for flute and piano (2003)
- The Night Trumpeter for trumpet and piano or ensemble (2002)
- Dream City for flute, clarinet, string quartet and harp (2002)
- Four Piano Solos (2002)
- White Fox Woman for mezzo-soprano and oboe (2002)
- Not Just a Place "dark memories from an old tango hall" for viola, double bass and piano (1999); also for violin, double bass and piano (2000), and flute, cello and piano (2004)
- Upstaged for violin and viola (1998)
- Choral works
- Northlight for SATB and chamber orchestra (2011)
- A Heavenly Song for SATB and organ (2011)
- Shipping Forecast for SATB and piano (or organ or string orchestra) (2011)
- Song of the Sea for SATB and organ (2011)
- Jesu, the very thought of Thee for SSAATTBB and organ (2010)
- Aurea luce for SATB and organ (2010)
- Alma Redemptoris Mater for SSATBB (2010)
- Deus, portus pacis for SSATB (2009)
- Ad Lucem, a Canticle of Light for SATB and organ or string orchestra (2009)
- Lonely Hearts for SSA and piano or harp (2005)
- Three Latin Motets (Ave Regina, Ave Maria and Regina Caeli) SATB (2004)
- Christus natus est for SATB and chamber orchestra (2003)
- Stabat Mater for baritone solo, children’s chorus, SATB and orchestra (2004)
- Magnificat for soprano and mezzo-soprano solo, SATB and orchestra (2003)
- A Fancy of Folksongs for SATB and piano or harp (2003)
- Ave maris stella for SATB and string orchestra (2001)
Notable recordings of McDowall's music include:
- Laudate (2009) CCCC, George Vass, Dutton Epoch CDLX 7230
- Spotless Rose (2008) Phoenix Chorale, Charles Bruffy, Chandos CHSA 5066
- Stabat Mater (2007) CCCC, Joyful Company of Singers, CDLX 7197
- Proclamation International Celebrity Trumpet Ensemble, Brass Classics
- Seraphim (2005) Orchestra Nova, George Vass, Dutton Epoch CDLX 7159
- Ave maris stella (2004) CCCC, George Vass, Dutton Epoch CDLX 7146
- http://www.ceciliamcdowall.co.uk/biography/ Official Web Site
- British Composer Awards.
- Portsmouth Festival Choir, UK.
- "Music inspired by Shipping Forecast". BBC News. UK: BBC. 15 June 2011. Retrieved 5 January 2017.
- "RSNO - Scotland's National Orchestra". Retrieved 24 January 2016.
- "Visiting Composer - Cecilia McDowall - Dulwich College". www.dulwich.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-02-01.
- "Women Composers Competition – The Arcadian Singers of Oxford". UK: NewMusicScotland. 20 March 2015. Retrieved 5 January 2017.