After emerging as a composer in 2016, Helen MacKinnon has a growing reputation for her sacred choral music in the UK, Europe and Asia. In 2022, Helen released a new orchestral work, The Rinns of Islay, with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. The work was awarded a Silver Medal in the 2022 Global Music Awards and nominated for first-round voting in the 2023 GRAMMY® awards.
Helen studied music at The University of Glasgow, Scotland specialising in composition with Scottish composer William Sweeney. Her most notable compositional work of that period was Crossing the Domain, a setting of Edwin Morgan's poem From the Domain of Arnheim for female voices and percussion. Fata Morgana, a duet for clarinet and violin, was selected for performance at GoMA in Glasgow. During her studies, Helen played first violin with The Kelvin Ensemble and sang with Glasgow University Choral Society.
After gaining her First Class Honours BMus (2002), Helen taught music independently alongside a professional career in marketing and management in the charity sector for 15 years. Determined to pursue her passion for composing professionally, in 2015, Helen entered her first composing competition and was awarded at the 2nd International Competition of Choral Composition Ennio Morricone during the Florence International Choir Festival. The award was a life-changing and the catalyst for a new career focus on composing.
Helen has work developing and being performed across the UK and internationally. Working with The University of Oxford as a female composer, Helen wrote My Voice for female voices as part of a Women and the Canon International Conference. The choral work premiered in Christ Church in 2016. A new commission as part of Perth Festival of the Arts saw Helen's modern setting of psalm 96 Sing to the Lord a new Song premiere in May 2016 in Perth City and receive promotion on BBC Radio Scotland's Janice Forsyth Show.
Helen is featured as an Emerging Composer with Florence Choral Festivals. Helen's Gloria in excelsis Deo premiered at the first Leonardo da Vinci International Choral Festival in 2017, performed by Kammerchor Manila. The work was performed again by the University of the Philippines Singing Ambassadors in the 2nd Andrea del Vercocchio International Choral Festival 2018. The work was recorded with Prague Mixed Chamber Choir and conductor Jiří Petrdlík and released in 2019 on Navona Records' Voices of Earth and Air Vol. II. Featuring on radio show 'Music of our Mothers' broadcast in the USA, Helen's Gloria was described as 'spectacular writing for voices'. The work has also featured on WCNY's Classic FM and Feminine Fusion radio shows in New York.
Helen's first full Mass in Latin Mass for the Spirit was published in 2018, with movements being performed by choirs across the UK. A new work for string orchestra and soprano Ave Maris Stella premiered in Serbia with the Subotica Philharmonic Orchestra and Alenka Ponjavić Vojnić.
2021/22 saw a new commission for wind ensemble
Caledonian Tracks written for Caledonian Winds, as well as a creative collaboration with Scottish musicians Dr Nicky Small and Syd House and Crieff Choral Group on the poetry of Scottish poet Violet Jacob. In April 2021, Helen's orchestral work The Rinns of Islay was recorded by the RSNO and PARMA Recordings and released in January 2022 to critical acclaim. The work premiered with Perth Symphony Orchestra in May 2022 in Perth Concert Hall and was awarded in the 2022 Global Music Awards.
Helen is currently completing a new sacred work for choir, strings and timpani The Road to Calvary. Helen is also delighted to join composers Oliver Searle and Jay Capperauld as mentors on the RSNO's 'Notes from Scotland' programme for young composers in 2022/23.