For more than two decades, omnivorous violist Nicholas Cords has been on the front line of a growing constellation of projects as performer, educator, and cultural advocate. As former Co-Artistic Director of Silkroad, violist of Brooklyn Rider, and and viola and chamber music faculty member at New England Conservatory, he is deeply committed to music from a broad variety of traditions and epochs, with a particular passion for the cross-section between the long tradition of classical music and the wide range of music being created today.
Nicholas serves currently as violist of the Silkroad Ensemble, a musical collective founded by Yo-Yo Ma in 2000 with the simple belief that radical cross-cultural collaboration leads to a more hopeful world. This mission is poignantly explored by the recent Oscar-nominated documentary by Morgan Neville, The Music Of Strangers, which profiles the individual stories of Ensemble members and makes a case for why culture matters in today’s world. Having served from 2017-2020 as a Co-Artistic Director for Silkroad, Nicholas previously served as Silkroad’s Programming Chair, taking an active role presenting the Ensemble on the world’s major musical stages, in museum residencies such as at the American Museum of Natural History and the Freer-Sackler Galleries, and also in educational contexts such as Silkroad’s long-standing residency at Harvard University. He has also been involved in bringing to life more than a hundred compositions and arrangements over the group’s relatively short history. Nicholas appears on all of the Silkroad Ensemble’s albums including Sing Me Home (Sony Music), which received a 2017 Grammy Award for Best World Music Album. Other albums include Silk Road Journeys, Beyond the Horizon, New Impossibilities, Off the Map, and A Playlist a Without Borders. Most recently, the group is prominently featured in the soundtrack for Ken Burns’ searing ten-part documentary on the Vietnam War, with an accompanying release available on In A Circle Records.
Another key aspect of Nicholas’ busy musical life is as founding member of Brooklyn Rider, an intrepid group which NPR credits with "recreating the 300-year-old form of the string quartet as a vital and creative 21st-century ensemble.” In a short amount of time, Brooklyn Rider's singular mission and gripping performance style have resulted in an indelible contribution to the world of the string quartet and has brought in legions of fans across the spectrum. Highly committed to collaborative ventures, the group has worked with Irish fiddler Martin Hayes, jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman, ballerina Wendy Whelan, Persian kemancheh virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor, Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, Mexican singer Magos Herrera, and banjoist Béla Fleck, to name a few. Brooklyn Rider regularly commissions and champions new works, including those by Tyondai Braxton, Gabriel Kahane, John Luther Adams, Caroline Shaw, Evan Ziporyn, plus many more. Notable appearances in recent seasons include those at Lincoln Center's White Light Festival, Opernhouse Zürich, A Prairie Home Companion, and the South By Southwest Festival. Their remarkably diverse array recordings including Silent City, Passport, Dominant Curve, Brooklyn Rider Plays Philip Glass, Philip Glass Quartets Six and Seven, Annunciation (Philip Glass Piano Quintet, Quartet Satz and Quartet #8), Seven Steps, A Walking Fire, The Brooklyn Rider Almanac, The Fiction Issue, Spontaneous Symbols, So Many Things, Dreamers, and Healing Modes have received wide critical acclaim from sources ranging from the New Yorker to Gramophone Magazine to Pitchfork.
As a soloist, he has appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, and the Bridgeport Symphony. Recent other highlights include performances at the White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg in works ranging from Feldman to Wuorinen (many heard in Russia for the first time) and the Vail International Dance Festival, where he participated in a revival of a long dormant Balanchine choreography set to Stravinsky's Élegie for solo viola with the great Brazilian ballerina Carla Körbes. His highly acclaimed 2013 debut solo album, Recursions, features works ranging from Biber to Hindemith to Cords' own Five Migrations. His 2020 recording Touch Harmonious (In a Circle Records), recorded and released during the COVID-19 pandemic, is a reflection on the arc of tradition spanning form the baroque to today, featuring multiple premieres. He has appeared frequently over the years on television and radio including a Chinese National Television broadcast from the Great Wall, the David Letterman Show, numerous National Public Radio broadcasts, Good Morning America, NHK Japan, and a four year run as resident commentator and performer on WQXR New York’s Radio weekly On A-I-R. In addition, he has worked with many ensembles, including the Knights, the Caramoor Virtuousi, the Smithsonian Chamber Players, An Die Musik, and the Metropolitan Museum Artists in Concert. Additionally, he served on the jury for the viola category of the ARD International Music Competition in Munich, Germany in 2018.
Beginning his musical education at the Juilliard School, Nicholas won top honors in the viola competition and subsequently gave the New York premiere of John Harbison’s Viola Concerto at Avery Fisher Hall. He completed his studies at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. His teachers and mentors have included Karen Tuttle, Harvey Shapiro, Joseph Fuchs, and Felix Galamir. A committed teacher, Nicholas currently serves on the viola and chamber music faculty of New England Conservatory. Mr. Cords plays on an instrument made for him in 2019 by famed French luthier Patrick Robin. He performs on bows from some of the world’s top modern makers including Charles Espey and Benoit Rolland.