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New commission by alumnus celebrates Da Vinci’s 500th

Fri 3 May 2019

British composer Cecilia McDowall will present the world premiere of her Da Vinci Requiem at the Royal Festival Hall to mark Leonardo da Vinci’s quincentenary.

The new work will be performed on 7 MAY 2019, almost exactly 500 years to the day after the Italian Renaissance artist, philosopher and inventor’s death on 2 MAY 1519. It is programmed alongside Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major.

McDowall’s largest scale choral work to date, the seven movement requiem was commissioned by Neil Ferris, conductor of Wimbledon Choral Society. The choir will perform the requiem with the Philharmonia Orchestra and soloists Kate Royal (soprano), Roderick Williams (baritone) and 2014 BBC Young Musician of the Year pianist Martin James Bartlett.

The piece combines texts from the Latin Missa pro defunctis with extracts from da Vinci’s notebooks. McDowall explained, –

“We had The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci in the family home. In 1946 my mother gave my father the two volumes of these recently translated Notebooks as a wedding present. […] My father, Harold Clarke, who turned down a place to read Natural Sciences at Cambridge to become a professional flautist, had an enduring fascination for Leonardo and [his] scientific view of the world… As a child I loved looking through these splendid tomes filled with the most extraordinary sketches.”

Harold Clarke was Head of Wind at Trinity College of Music and principal flautist at the Royal Opera House. He gives his name to a woodwind competition at Trinity Laban.

Writing about her choice of text for the requiem, McDowall commented, –

“Once I had decided which sections of the Requiem Mass to use I looked for passages from Leonardo’s philosophy … to align with the mass; there were many parallels between them… Leonardo’s extraordinary philosophical writings cast reflective and penetrating insights into the nature of mortality and all that it encompasses.”

Remembering her time studying piano at Trinity College of Music, McDowall recalled, –

“I studied with the wonderful Hungarian pianist, Joseph Weingarten… His thoughtful, profoundly musical approach influenced my thinking deeply; he was always supportive and most encouraging of my creative endeavours and even now I think what a privilege it was to hear him play, in my lessons, with such characteristic beauty and sensitivity.”

To book tickets for Cecilia McDowall’s Da Vinci Requiem, visit the Southbank Centre’s website.