Errollyn Wallen

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Errollyn Wallen CBE (born April 10, 1958[1]) is a Belize-born British composer.

Errollyn Wallen

Errollyn Wallen on a chair, leaning to look towards the camera, at a piano.
Errollyn Wallen at Snape Maltings
BornApril 10, 1958
Years active1976-present [1]


Errollyn Wallen moved to London with her family when she was two.[2] While her parents moved to New York, she and her three siblings (one of whom is the trumpeter Byron Wallen) were brought up by an aunt and uncle and she was educated at a boarding school.[3] She credits her interest in poetry and music to her uncle whom she described in an interview as "Victorian" and responsible for her taking lessons in piano.[4]

Before studying music, she trained as a dancer at the Maureen Lyons School of Dance and the Urdang Academy, both in London. She moved to New York to further her training at the Dance Theatre of Harlem (1976-8)[1] but later abandoned her training, turned to music composition and returned to the UK. She studied music at Goldsmiths (1981) and composition at King's College London (1983), and earned an MPhil at King's College, Cambridge.[5][3] Wallen has stated that she had begun composing professionally before her studies at Cambridge University.[4]


Wallen's music draws on a wide range of influences, including avant-garde classical music as well as popular songwriting. Her work has been performed in leading concert halls and theatres around the world.

Her first orchestral commission was a concerto for percussion and orchestra, written for percussionist Colin Currie and premiered by him during the finals of the BBC Young Musician competition in 1994.[6][7] This piece was subsequently performed at the 1998 BBC Proms, making Wallen the first black female composer to receive a performance at that festival.[8]

Compositions include the "multi-media song cycle"Jordan Town (2001), Dervish for cello and piano (2001), La Luga for guitar quintet (2002), the opera Another America: Earth (2003) and All the Blues I See for flute and string quartet (2004).

In 2006 she co-wrote a song with the astronaut Steve MacLean while he was aboard the space shuttle STS-115.

In 2007, Gewandhaus Orchestra and the Leipzig Ballet performed her work, The Tempest, with choreography by James McMenemy. Her opera The Silent Twins, with a libretto by April De Angelis, was first performed by the Almeida Opera in 2007.

In June 2008, she had a World Premiere of Carbon 12- A Choral Symphony with the Welsh National Opera.

In 2010, her piano quintet Music for Tigers was performed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as part of the Summergarden concert series.[9]

In 2012, her song Daedalus from the album Errollyn served as the opening and closing theme for the BBC drama One Night, and her "Principia", which has lyrics about science, was featured in the London Paralympics Opening Ceremony.

In 2014, Melodia Women's Choir of New York City commissioned and performed the World Premiere of Full Fathom Five.[10]

In 2017, her work, Mighty River, which marks the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in England, was performed at the Southbank New Music Biennial.[11]

Recordings and publication[edit]

In 2004, Wallen recorded an album of her own songs and solo piano music, entitled Errollyn. Her CDs include: The Girl In My Alphabet, Meet Me at Harold Moores, featured on the Brodsky Quartet Mood Swings alongside Björk, Sting and Elvis Costello.

Wallen's music is published by Peters Edition.

Honours and awards[edit]

Wallen was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2007 Birthday Honours and Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2020 New Year Honours,[12] both for services to music. She has also received an Ivors Composer Award.[13] In 2018, she was listed as one of BBC's 100 Women.[13] On 3 January 2022 Wallen was chosen by presenter Donald Macleod to be BBC Radio 3's Composer of the Week.

Academic appointments[edit]

In October 2020, Wallen was appointed visiting professor of composition at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.[14]


  1. ^ a b Sadie, Stanley (2001). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London: Macmillan Publishers Limited. p. 38. ISBN 1-56159-239-0.
  2. ^ Sophie Fuller (1994). The Pandora Guide to Women Composers: Britain and the United States 1629–present. Pandora. pp. 319–20. ISBN 978-0-04-440897-0.
  3. ^ a b Jessica Duchen, "Errollyn Wallen's 'Anon': Manon Lescaut for the 21st century", The Independent, 21 July 2014.
  4. ^ a b "Errollyn Wallen Interview | Identity & Aesthetic: Five British-Caribbean Composers", YouTube, retrieved 14 September 2021
  5. ^ Jessica Duchen, "10 Questions for Composer Errollyn Wallen", The Arts Desk, 16 March 2016.
  6. ^ "Review". Gramophone. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  7. ^ Miller, Mara (3 April 2020). "Inclusive Views: 6 Questions with Composer Errollyn Wallen". unCLASSIFIED. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  8. ^ Wallen, Errollyn (4 March 2016). "Every day involves thinking, dreaming, playing and singing". the Guardian. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  9. ^ Kozinn, Allen (26 July 2010). "Bringing Garden Sounds Indoors". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 August 2017.
  10. ^ Smolenski, Nicholas. "World Premier of Errollyn Wallen's "Full Fathom Five"". Women Composers Festival. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  11. ^ "Mighty River". Southbank Centre. Archived from the original on 19 October 2018. Retrieved 8 August 2017.
  12. ^ "No. 62866". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 December 2019. p. N10.
  13. ^ a b "BBC 100 Women 2018: Who is on the list?". BBC News. 19 November 2018. Retrieved 21 November 2018.
  14. ^ "Royal Conservatoire of Scotland appoints Composer Errollyn Wallen CBE as Visiting Professor of Composition". Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. 23 October 2020. Retrieved 14 September 2021.

External links[edit]