Meet the Musicians | Holly Mathieson

Nevis Ensemble Marketing and PR Assistant, Isaac Boothman chats with Nevis co-Artistic Director, Holly Mathieson.

How did you end up in Nevis Ensemble?

A mysterious Scotsman (Jamie!) got in touch and asked if Jon and I would be interested. He didn’t really elaborate, and if I’m honest, I didn’t really realise the scope and depth of the project he had in mind until we started the first tour a year or so later!

Do you have a particular favourite Nevis Ensemble memory?

Two spring to mind: 

1. Huddling in a bivvy at the top of Ben Nevis, with a handful of players and the Syrian lads from Refuweegee who climbed with us (very kindly helping out with cello-carrying duties along the way), sharing a tub of hummus around the circle (the only thing the boys could eat from our rather secular rations!) and realising there was absolutely no way we were going to be able to play as an ensemble at the top, despite everyone lugging their instruments the whole way up the mountain in near-blizzard conditions. Yet, somehow, it was still 100% worth it. The beer and chips at the little pub at the bottom of the mountain afterwards were life-saving!

2. St Clement’s Church, Rodel on the Isle of Harris. One of the most mystical and evocative places I’ve ever played – it genuinely feels like the sort of space which transcends religions, periods, species… It was magical. There was no electricity, so by the end of the gig, we were in near darkness. The players just got on and worked it out among themselves, making swift decisions about which parts needed to keep going for the integrity of the piece, while the others held their smartphones up as lamps. It was a spontaneous group act of creativity and adaptability, duty and empathy. It’s everything I could hope to have seen develop in the culture of the ensemble.

How has your involvement in music changed your life or career?

It has given me the chance to travel the world, make the most wonderful life-long friends, and meet the person I chose to spend my life with. To say I’m indebted is an understatement.

What would your ideal vision for music and the arts be?

That it be driven by, and toward, service to others, contributing to healthy societies, and be a tool for participation. That requires an entirely different kind of financial model for the arts, because at the moment, too much hinges on selling virtuosity, kudos and cultural capital. 

What are you looking forward to doing with Nevis in the future?

I cannot wait to get back to small community halls and care facilities once it’s safe to, to bring some music and company to those who’ve been most acutely isolated through the pandemic. One thing we’ve talked about a lot throughout is “who are the people who haven’t had access to the internet to see streamed events in the interim” – that’s who I’d like to get back to as soon as we can.

Describe a typical day for you.

If I’m not rehearsing or on tour, Jon wakes me up with a cuppa, and I have a fairly leisurely breakfast (I’m not a morning person!) Then we both usually work fairly late into the evening. For me, that’s a mix of planning for the orchestras and opera companies I work with, talking to my agent, Zoom meetings with my colleagues in Canada and New Zealand, doing promotional work for upcoming projects and – through lockdown – studying coding, my new obsession!

Jon is on tea delivery through the day, and in return I do most of the cooking (though he does make incredible ramen, roasts and stews).  I try to go for a walk or a jog every day, and we usually finish the day in front of the fire with an episode or two of a good box set. Through lockdown we’ve watched Vikings, Hunters and House of Cards, and we’re now watching The Crown from the beginning.

What are your top three must-have items?

1) A bottomless supply of Earl Grey tea

2) A large mug to drink it from

3) A networked computer

What is your favourite dessert and why?

I’d pass up any dessert in favour of a plate of goat and/or sheep cheese, crisp slices of green apple and some good oatcakes

What is your favourite word and why?

I don’t think I have one! But I did learn the meaning of the word crepuscular* last night. That’s a good one.

*[resembling or relating to twilight.]

If you could swim in any liquid what would it be and why?

I’m a hopeless swimmer, and convinced I’ll die by drowning (the late night, storm-hit, jet-boat ride back from St Kilda on the Nevis Hebrides tour was terrifying!) so I don’t care what it is, as long as it’s VERY calm, VERY warm, and VERY shallow. That said, I put my big girl pants on last summer and swam in the Mediterranean off the back of a boat. Once my heart had stopped racing, it was bliss.