Artistic Director: Amelia Freedman CBE FRAM
The Nash Ensemble has built up a remarkable reputation as one of Britain's finest chamber groups and, through the dedication of its founder and artistic director Amelia Freedman and the virtuosity of its players, has gained a similar reputation all over the world. The repertoire is vast and the imaginative, innovative and unusual programmes are as finely architectured as the beautiful Nash terraces in London from which the group takes its name. Not that the Nash Ensemble is classically restricted; it performs with equal sensitivity and musicality works from Mozart to the avant-garde, having given first performances of over 255 new works to date. These include 150 commissions especially written for the Group, providing a legacy for generations to come. An impressive collection of recordings illustrates the same varied and colourful combination of classical masterpieces, little-known neglected gems and important contemporary works.
The Nash makes many foreign tours: concerts have been given throughout Europe and the USA, and in South America, Australia and Japan. The group is a regular visitor to many British music festivals and can be heard on radio, television, at their renowned annual series at Wigmore Hall as well as at the Southbank Centre and the BBC Proms, and at music clubs throughout the country. The ensemble has won the Edinburgh Festival Critics' music award 'for general artistic excellence', and two Royal Philharmonic Society awards in the small ensemble category 'for the breadth of its taste and its immaculate performance of a wide range of music'.
The London Sinfonietta's mission is to place the best contemporary classical music at the heart of today's culture; engaging and challenging the public through inspiring performances of the highest standard, and taking risks to develop new work and talent.
The ensemble is Resident Orchestra at Southbank Centre with headquarters at Kings Place, and continues to take the best contemporary music to venues and festivals across the UK and worldwide with a busy touring schedule. Since its inaugural concert in 1968 - giving the world premiere of Sir John Tavener's The Whale - the London Sinfonietta's commitment to making new music has seen it commission over 300 works, and premiere many hundreds more.
The core of the London Sinfonietta is 18 Principal Players, representing some of the best solo and ensemble musicians in the world. The ensemble has just launched its Emerging Artists Programme, which will give professional musicians at the start of promising and brilliant careers the opportunity to work alongside those Principal Players on stage across the season.
The London Sinfonietta's recordings present a catalogue of 20th-century classics, on numerous prestigious labels as well as the ensemble's own London Sinfonietta Label. Most recently, a performance of Philip Cashian's Piano Concerto was released on NMC.
Born in Glasgow in 1952, Knussen grew up near London, where his father was principal double bass of the London Symphony Orchestra. It was with the LSO that he made his debut in April 1968, conducting his First Symphony in London and in Carnegie Hall, New York. In 1970 he was awarded the first of three fellowships to Tanglewood, where he studied with Gunther Schuller. During this time he completed several works which were subsequently widely performed on both sides of the Atlantic and established his early reputation. In 1975 Knussen returned permanently to the UK.
From 1983 till 1998, Knussen was an Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival, and also held posts at the Tanglewood Music Center and with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. In 1992, with Colin Matthews, he established the Contemporary Composition and Performance courses at the Britten-Pears School in Snape.
After many years of close collaboration with the London Sinfonietta, Oliver Knussen became Music Director in 1998, and in 2002 was made Conductor Laureate. In 2006 he was appointed Artist in Association with the BCMG. Among his many awards are Honorary Memberships of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Royal Philharmonic Society, an Honorary Doctorate from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and the 2004 Association of British Orchestras Award. In 2006 he was named the second recipient of the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize from Northwestern University, USA.
He has guest-conducted in many parts of the world, including in the USA, Canada, Europe and Japan. As a conductor he has recorded more than thirty CDs of contemporary music, several of which have won international awards - these include Robin Holloway's Concerto for Orchestra No.2, which won NMC's first Gramophone Award, and Maxwell Davies' opera Taverner.
He became a CBE in the 1994 Birthday Honours.
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Two of Knussen's major works of the 1970s - Symphony No.2, a song cycle on texts of Georg Trakl and Sylvia Plath, and Symphony No. 3, a symphonic poem about Shakespeare's Ophelia - are coupled with Coursing, Ophelia Dances and other works.
'Knussen’s musical language is complex and post-serial, yet he has the knack of conjuring clarity, wit, emotion and memorability out of an idiom that produced so much forgettable cerebral sludge' The Times
‘Here is the essence of him: his precocious song-cycle symphony (No 2) and arresting Symphony No 3 (performed by the Philharmonia)… and that locus classicus of ensemble virtuosity, the five minute Coursing, with its long –sustained, leaping, complexly inflected unison line plausibly evoking Niagara Falls' Sunday Times Culture magazine
‘NMC Records, the independent specialist in British new music, has released this recording at an opportune time, ideal for those wanting to discover more about Oliver Knussen as composer’ Classical Iconoclast
‘This is a unique opportunity to observe one of the exceptional musicians of the 20th (and 21st) century refining his craft.’ Fanfare magazine
'Performances are exceptional, which should come as no surprise given the participants' American Record Guide
‘These were always definitive performances and it is good to have them available once more-together with Knussen’s brief yet knotty tribute to Elliot Carter at 70, Coursing-in expert remasterings’ Gramophone
‘From the brilliantly evocative ambiguities accompanying the surreal descent into sleep, to the nightmare dreamscapes over shimmering layers of freely deployed 12-tone series, to the dawn-tinged An die Schwester with its notorious (to modernists) moment of repose in an A-Major triad, everything about this symphony proclaims the incipient virtuoso artist’ Fanfare
‘The London Sinfonietta is beyond praise. This, therefore, self-recommending to any devotee of contemporary music who does not own the earlier release’ Fanfare
‘Oliver Knussen’s Second Symphony, completed in 1971, is a strikingly original, even precocious statement from a 19-year-old composer’ Fanfare
Symphony No.3 and Ophelia Dances were recorded at Watford Town Hall on 11-12 May 1981.
Recording Engineer BOB AUGER
Producer ANTONY HODGSON
Assistant Producer OLIVER KNUSSEN
Symphony No. 2, Trumpets, Coursing and Cantata were recorded at St John's Smith Square, London on 24 June and 11 August 1983.
Recording Engineers JOHN WHITING, MIKE SKEET
Recording Producer OLIVER KNUSSEN
Production Assistants SIVA OKE, PETER PAUL NASH
Editing BOB AUGER
Mastering RICK CAMPION
Executive Producer COLIN MATTHEWS
Cover image FRANZ MARC, Der Wasserfall (1912)
CD & booklet design by FRANCOIS HALL
(P) 2012 Arts Council England
© 2012 NMC Recordings Ltd