NMC was created 30 years ago this month and to celebrate, our Founder and Executive Producer, Colin Matthews, reflect on the origins of NMC and Imogen Holst's impact on its creation.
In 2017 NMC reissued an album of chamber music by Imogen Holst. We were all surprised and delighted that, although its previous release had only been 8 years earlier, it received a huge amount of attention. This could hardly have been more appropriate, since if it had not been for Imogen, NMC would very likely never have come into being. When together we set up the Holst Foundation, not long before her death in 1984, she made it clear that its future role should not be to subsidise her father’s music in the way that most other composer trusts function. Instead she hoped that it would be able to support the work of living composers. Amongst other projects, we talked at length about the possibility of funding recordings, and although it took a while to get NMC off the ground – it was not easy to establish a recording company that could be a registered charity – I have always felt that the label was founded with her blessing, and I know that she would have approved wholeheartedly of what has been achieved since 1989.
NMC started with a mission: we were determined to remedy the very poor representation of living British composers in the record catalogues: extraordinary to think that, back then, Harrison Birtwistle had only one major recording available (now reissued on NMC D148), while Jonathan Harvey had reached 50 without a single significant disc (Bhakti was our first release in April 1989). In the case of Peter Maxwell Davies’ opera Taverner it took us over 20 years before the release was possible. Very early on we devised a ‘hit list of music we felt demanded to be released. That original list was gradually worked through, while it simultaneously expanded as new works were written, younger composers came into focus, and we moved into new and innovative areas, including creative digital platforms and our education work, assisting the development of emerging talent and engaging with younger audiences.
I don’t believe that at the outset we would ever have dared to imagine that so much could be accomplished over 30 years. With the Holst Foundation no longer able to be a major funder after the expiry of Holst’s copyrights, we rely on the support of ACE, trusts, foundations and many generous individuals to continue the work we do championing composers at all stages of their careers and inspiring new generations of listeners, artists and composers.
Colin Matthews (NMC Founder and Executive Producer)
Further reading: Imogen Holst: memories from Colin Matthews