Helen Bowater graduated Bmus (Hons) in music history and ethnomusicology from Victoria University of Wellington in 1982. She later studied composition with Jack Body and electroacoustic music with Ross Harris. She has been active in various choirs and ensembles as a singer, pianist and violinist, also in the Victoria University Gamelan Padhang Moncar and in the rock bands pHonk and the Extra Virgin Orchestra.
Following residencies at the Nelson School of Music in 1992 and at Otago University as Mozart Fellow in 1993, she was appointed Composer-in-Residence with the Auckland Philharmonia in 1994. In 1998 she attended June in Buffalo composition summer school and the Festival of New Zealand music in Scotland where the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra played her gamelan influenced New Year Fanfare and the Hebrides Ensemble performed Banshee, commissioned by ECAT for the occasion. Banshee also featured in a 2001 programme of women composers by the Chameleon Arts Ensemble of Boston. She participated in a contemporary composition festival and conference at ISI, Jogya, Indonesia in 2008 and a festival of NZ music in Beijing in 2010.
Many of Helen's solo, ensemble and orchestral works have been performed in concert and on radio and several published. Works include installation and collaboration with sculptor, Kazu Nakagawa and brother David Bowater; an orchestral piece River of Ocean performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (cond. Kenneth Young) at a New Zealand, New Music festival in Scotland 2001; Urwachst commissioned and performed by Auckland Philharmonia, (cond. Steven Smith) 2003; commissioned works from Stroma and 175 East in 2005; recording of New Year Fanfare performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (cond. Kenneth Young) during the Asia Pacific Music Festival 2006; a string quartet: This Desperate Edge of Now, performed in Holland (2008) and workshopped/recorded as part of a collaborative project between the Aroha String Quartet, SOUNZ and Radio New Zealand Concert (in association with CANZ and CMNZ) in 2015; and a harp solo, commissioned for performance in 2007. Helen was awarded the Jack C Richards/Creative New Zealand Composer Residency hosted by the NZSM, Victoria University of Wellington for 2008-2009, during which she wrote a variety of pieces for solo and ensemble including: Nekhbet for pianist Wojciech Wisniewski (performed in Australia and New Zealand) and Sun Wu Kong (Monkey) for Chinese sheng, Gamelan Padhang Moncar, singer, and the New Zealand String Quartet. In 2014/15 The Frivolous Cake was a featured work in Brighton: Sounding Food and Music, a concert and art event that explored food in music and gender issues.
Most recent compositions include an ensemble piece Beneath the Crumpled Stars, setting poems by Gregory O’Brien for the Barefoot Musicians of Budapest; a duo for C flute/alto flute and piano commissioned by Anthony Ferner; In The East, To The Right… for female choir, harp and 3 megaphones commissioned by Baroque Voices of Wellington; and the electroacoustic sound component of a sound sculpture Crossed Wires for HEADLAND Sculpture on the Gulf 2015, now permanently installed at Connell’s Bay Sculpture Park, Waiheke Island. Helen is a 2016 recipient of the University of Otago Wallace Residency attached to the Auckland Pah Homestead.
She lives on Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf.