Creativity and determination at the Chamber

Ahead of their performance at the Three Palaces Festival in Valletta, Amelia Freedman keeps on looking forward with the UK-based, ever-rotating Nash Ensemble, 51 years on 

The Nash Ensemble
The Nash Ensemble

The Nash Ensemble has essentially thrived on creativity and endurance. Its performances have remained consistent, prolific and much acclaimed by critics with an ever increasing dedicated following. It has also inspired many young musicians and most importantly, kept alive the tradition of chamber music.

The secret behind this success is the dedication of its founder and artistic director Amelia Freedman, who at 75, has no plans to retire. She is also renowned as a Mozartfest director and during her tenure, helped to turn it into one of the most successful classical music festivals in the UK. Freedman has been surrounded by music and musicians throughout her life and during this interview, she also gives more insight to the Nash Ensemble and their forthcoming performance during the Three Palaces Festival.

The Nash Ensemble celebrated its 50th  birthday last year. What are the secrets behind its longevity and success?

My perseverance and commitment, the commitment of the players and the innovative programmes, which have included 195 commissions, over 300 premieres from 225 different composers. Since 1989, the Nash has presented a series each year at the Wigmore  Hall with different themes. This season the theme is Mozart, Mendelssohn and the Italians. 

 What inspired you to form the Nash Ensemble while you were studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London?

During my student days at the Royal Academy I used to organise chamber music concerts there and encouraged my fellow students to participate in these events. It was in fact at the instigation of these students that I started the Nash Ensemble in 1964. In addition to this, I went to many concerts outside of the Academy, and was inspired to start a group by listening to the Melos Ensemble (the finest chamber group in the UK at that time). 

The Nash Ensemble  is not solely dedicated to contemporary  music yet you have commissioned over 195 new works from contemporary composers. How do you go about programming these new works and introducing them to the audience?

Sometimes I programme new work within the context of other contemporary composers,  sometimes with 20 century master-works by such composers as Stravinsky, Ravel, Elliott Carter, Messiaen (and so on), and sometimes present new work within a  programme of classical composers including Beethoven and Schubert. Colours and contrasts are important. I try to show off each work in its  best light.

What particular changes has The Nash Ensemble gone through these past 50 years?

Inevitably, there have been changes of musicians but the players both past and present have kept the Nash spirit so consistently fresh for the past 50 years. What matters has always been the joy of music-making in a team, married to the thrill of new discoveries.

Some players have been part of the Nash Ensemble since the very beginning – how do  you explain the loyalty and dedication of these players ?

In fact, the only person who has been there from the beginning is Amelia Freedman!  However, many of the players – such as our pianist Ian Brown – have been a member for over 30 years. The two main reasons for the loyalty of the players is the opportunity to perform with other musicians of the highest calibre, and the adventurous programming, learning new repertoire every season, but still having the opportunity to perform the great masterworks both for strings, piano and wind.

The Nash Ensemble has collaborated with other musicians such as folk groups like  Tenores de Bitti and the Kurdish Shaho Andalibi Trio. What challenges, if any,  did these collaborations pose?

When I create a theme I like to look at a number of dimensions to that theme, which in the past have included films, talks, exhibitions, and educational work. One of the pieces the Nash will perform this season will be Luciano Berio’s Folk Songs, which include settings of songs from Armenia, Italy, USA and France. The two folk groups performing as prelude to the evening concert, compliment those folk songs.

Apart from the Nash, you have been artistic director of Mozartfest in Bath since 1995, and you were also a former head of Southbank between 1995 and 2006. What changes and directions did you take during your tenure at this prestigious organisation?

I have tried to bring adventurous and interesting programming complimented by great artists and championing young players and composers at the start of their careers.

At the South Bank Centre we presented a number of composer festivals which won Royal Philhamonic Society and South Bank Show awards for inspiring programming and performances at the  highest level. These included festivals for composers such as Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies, Gyorgy Kurtag and Luciano Berio, as well as an in-depth look at orchestral, chamber and vocal works  by Rachmaninov, Schubert, Schumann and Mozart.

At the Bath Mozartfest I present programmes which include  period groups such as The Sixteen, string quartets such as the Takacs Quartet, pianists including Andras Schiff, orchestral concert by orchestras such as the Halle Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Festival also supports young artists at the beginning of their careers. Of course, it is a Mozartfest so his  music is the backbone of the programme, threading its way throughout the celebration.   

The Nash Ensemble will be performing on November 2 at the Museum of Archaeology Valletta at 20:00 as part of the Three Palaces Festival. The Three Palaces Festival will be held between November 2 and 8. More information can be obtained from tickets from

Interview by Eric Montfort 

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