Lyrics & Libretti with Cecilia McDowall


We first met at the school gates while waiting for our sons.  We have now collaborated for several years on musical commissions ranging from a children’s opera to an almost indescribable event that included a leading actor, nine celebrity narrators (one of whom entered under a grand piano), a counter-tenor/mime and a rap poet…and an orchestra in costume including sunglsses. Our work has been widely performed, from St John’s Smith Square and the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London to international music festivals and school halls.  The only thing that doesn’t change in our partnership is our shared a taste for terrible puns.  We both love having another person who understands the balance of private and shared energies in a collaboration. Sometimes we go for months without working together, busy with our own projects, then, bang!  Something happens and we’re off,  sometimes in concert dress, sometimes in wellies, as we were while we researched Five Seasons.

Our Work:

Five Seasons (2006)

A cantata for choir and orchestra, celebrating the organic landscape.  For more please see this page.

Drink the Sky

A song for children’s choir, commissioned and first performed in 2012.  Published by the OUP.

After the Rain

Choral song commissioned by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, 2010, as part of Vocal Sensations. [Link]

Cantate Astra (2006)

This short, strongly rhythmic choral piece fills the frequent need for a secular, multi-national carol for holidys like Easter and Christmas. Commissioned by Giles Swayne.  Its many performances include those by the Canterbury Chamber Choir and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta Choir.  Recorded in 2009.

City Almanac (2006)

Choral song commissioned by West Hampstead Girls High School to take to the Eisteddfod in 2006 (where they placed 9th).  A light-hearted, urban take on the seasons.  Recorded.

White Fox Woman (2003)

White Fox Woman is a dark dramatic song for middle to low female voice and oboe, inspired by a Japanese folk legend.  (We think of it as a mini-opera for one voice.) Written for Paul Goodey (oboe) and Linda Hirst (voice)  Performed in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, The South Bank, London. The work has also been used as an exam piece by the Royal Academny of Music.

Recorded: Paul Goodey (oboe) and Linda Hirst (voice) and released in 2003 by the Oboe Classics label (New Ground CC 2003)

Deep Waters (2000)

A darkly comic opera making an ecological point. Commissioned and performed by W11 Children’s Opera as their millennium production, Deep Waters was spcially written for a cast of over 80 children to give as many of them as possible named parts and solo lines, as well as to challenge the star voices.  (These numbers are also designed to be flexible.)  With a nod to both The Tempest and Water Babies,  the action begins with a wild, raging storm at sea.  Four children fall overboard to the the sea floor but find that they can still breathe.  In this supernatural, aquatic world, where the fish play havoc with each other in a bid to survive, the children realise, with a ghastly sense of impending doom, that no accident has brought them here – they are needed to perform a dangerous task.  Though witty and amusing, the work has a dark edge anda serious, relevant issue at its heart – over-fishing.

First performed at St. James Norlands, London in 2000, then several times elsewhere, including at Music on the Shannon, Ireland, summer 2011. To be revived by W11 Opera in 2014.

Audience members at the premiere said that the programme was worth buying just for all the dreadful fishy puns in it.

Lonely Hearts (2005)

Three contrasting choral songs about being alone.  A setting of three of my poems, each offering a different view of loneliness.  The first song, Autumn Migration, describes the flight of a flock of birds across the sky pursued by a ‘single late flyer’ stitching ‘together earth and sky’.  The second song, Night Garden, evokes the delicate fragrance of a still summer’s evening in which ‘lives to small to risk the light’ bravely begin to stir.  The cheeky, upbeat final song, Would Like To Meet, presents a ‘Lonely Hearts’ column, with a difference.   Commissioned by the Canterbury Chamber Choir and first performed in 2005, with a number of later performances.

Inferno (1999)

A dramatic musical piece for countertenor, trumpet and percussion, based on the writings of Dante and Rimbaud.  Commissioned by the Fibonacci Sequence and first performed at St John’s, Smith Square, London, 1999, with Paul Archibald on trumpet. Xxxxpn [percussion and the countertenor, Renzo Murrone

Commissioned by the Fibonacci Sequence.  First performed at St. John’s, Smith Square, London, in 1999.  Later performances elsewhere.

Play Ground (1999)

For orchestra, 7 narrators, countertenor/mime, rap artist and children’s voices. Based on children’s playground rhymes.  Commissioned by London Musici and the charity, HAPA, which provides play grounds for children with special needs. A chanted-not-sung cantata, first performed with narrators played by Humphrey Burton, Susannah Simons, Edward Petherbridge, and Lady Solti, among others.  Though it has had other performances elsewhere, nothing has equalled the startling effect of an audience member at the Premiere in St John’s, Smith Square, suddenly standing up and beginning to undress, stripping off his dinner jacket to reveal a track suit, and then leaping onto the stage. The entrance of another cast member under the piano came about more practically because we could not move the piano in time – but it worked.

First performed at St. John’s, Smith Square, 1999.  Other performances elsewhere.

Contact me through this website about performance rights . (I will pass on any queries to Cecilia.) For musical information and enquiries about published scores and CDs, please get in touch with Cecilia on: mcdowall