- J.M. Thomson
- , revised by Elizabeth Kerr
(b Whangarei, April 23, 1941). New Zealand composer. Part-Maori, she was born into a musical family and began composing at an early age. After attending the University of Auckland (1959–62) and Victoria University, Wellington (BMus 1964), she studied composition with Sculthorpe at the University of Sydney (MMus 1966). Maxwell Davies's lectures in Adelaide (1966) stimulated her to continue studying with him in England the following year. She was composer-in-residence at Northern Arts, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1978–80, before joining the staff at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in 1981, where she later became Head of Composition. After leaving the Conservatorium in 1995, she continued to divide her time between New Zealand and Australia as a freelance composer.
Whitehead, a prolific composer working regularly to commissions, described her musical language as Expressionism; it is invariably atonal, apart from sparing use of quotation in stage works. Tightly constructed linear writing reveals European sources, and in the stage works the passionate vocal lines are placed in coherent harmonic and melodic networks related to plot and characterization. The influences of the Maori spirituality of her heritage and the New Zealand landscape have also been increasingly acknowledged in her works....