Nicholas Ward is among the more important English conductors of his generation. He began his career as a violinist playing in orchestras and chamber ensembles, but eventually took up the baton and has since focused largely on works from the Classical and early Romantic periods, having recorded whole chunks of symphonies and string works by Haydn, Mozart, and Mendelssohn. But Ward's repertory extends into the 20th century and includes music by Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Berkeley, and other composers of the era. Ward has recorded extensively, the bulk of his work appearing on the Naxos label.
Ward was born in Manchester, England, in 1952. His parents were members of the Manchester-based Hallé Orchestra. Young Nicholas showed interest in music as a child, first trying his hand at the piano, then, at age eight, turning to the violin. When he was 12 Ward formed a string quartet that remained active until he enrolled at Manchester's Northern College of Music five years later.
Ward was a student there for six years, studying under Barry Griffiths, Rudolph Botta, and Yossi Zivoni. He spent an additional year of study in Brussels with André Gertler, then, in 1977, relocated to London. It was here where he began his career with two somewhat modest steps, joining the Melos Ensemble and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as a violinist.
He remained with the RPO for five years and also had short stints with the London Mozart Players and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. In 1984 Ward was appointed co-leader of the City of London Sinfonia and leader of the Northern Chamber Orchestra. Soon after Ward was named music director of the latter ensemble in 1986, he began turning out a string of successful recordings with it.
Among his earlier efforts was the 1992 release on Naxos of Haydn's Symphonies No. 26, No. 35, and No. 49, part of a larger series, to which Ward and the NCO contributed six volumes. For the same label Ward and his group next recorded 26 Mozart symphonies, also as part of a complete cycle.
Throughout the 1990s and into the first decade of the new century, Ward (who leads the orchestra from the violin section) helped the NCO build a reputation as one of the finest chamber ensembles from England. Typically, Ward and his group have concertized in a variety of locales throughout northern England, including Blackpool, Ludlow, and Lancaster University. Ward continued recording into the 2000s, with efforts like Chill with Handel (2003), Boccherini: Cello Concertos Nos. 9-12 (2005), and Britten's Beggar's Opera (2009).