Nash Ensemble

My wind-and-piano piece Airs from Another Planet has received the signal honour of being included in a Nash Ensemble 50th Anniversary concert at the Wigmore Hall, where we learned that the Ensemble have commissioned (so far) 193 new works, of which mine is but one. In my time I’ve been involved in commissioning composers, and know the immense amount of schlepping needed to unite a music group with a new composition and composer with a sum of money. To keep doing this regularly over half a century is hero’s work.

Incredibly, for all this long period, that work has devolved on one person, still there in the Wigmore on Saturday, busily working backstage and front-of-house, with a gracious word for everyone. The Nash started out as a student group, of which Amelia Freedman was then the clarinettist. She helpfully agreed to take up the ‘admin’ on behalf of her fellow players, and she’s still doing it. (In her excellent new book Sleeping in Temples, Susan Tomes ponders at length the anatomy of a new chamber group and mentions that there’s often one ensemble member who takes on the group’s correspondence perhaps, as happened to Sue with her Domus piano quartet, because she couldn’t bear to see it done incompletely). Whatever Amelia’s inner motive, her positive student gesture has become her life’s work, and we are all the better for it.

How many groups now survive for fifty years, run by the same person? (We’re about to witness another big number next season, when John Woolf’s Park Lane Group reaches its 60th season .) Was there something in the water in those days that helped to bond musicians together ? More likely I think, that these important but small-scale organisations established themselves before the mid-1980s when public arts funders started to interfere with the art they were being asked to support. No doubt good intentions were the motivator of this development; but strange mutations in the 'delivery of the arts to the public', not least the exponential growth of arts administration itself, have been increasingly evident since then. Meanwhile the Nash Ensemble and the PLG have always known what they wanted to do, and have somehow managed to carry on doing it, come what may.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer