Born in Nottingham in 1987, Nicola Hands graduated in 2013 with Distinction from the Royal Academy of Music Masters programme, where she studied oboe with Melanie Ragge and cor anglais with Jill Crowther. Nicola is a busy freelance performer based in London whose playing has been described by local reviewers in Nottingham and Cambridge as both ‘beguiling’ and ‘exquisite’. She was previously was the 2nd oboe/cor anglais player for the Orquestra do Norte, Portugal, and has been on trial with the Philharmonia Orchestra. As a freelance performer Nicola has played regularly with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia at the Royal Opera House, the Chameleon Orchestra and the Orpheus Sinfonia as well as many other orchestras in and around London, and is an extra player for English National Opera, English National Ballet and Orquestra Metropolitana in Lisbon. Nicola also plays for musical theatre; from September 2013 to February 2014 she was the oboe and cor anglais player for ‘The Light Princess’ by Tori Amos at the National Theatre, and has played for ‘Miss Saigon’ in the Prince Edward Theatre.
Nicola is also very active as a soloist and chamber musician. As a concert soloist, Nicola has performed the Vaughan Williams Oboe Concerto with West Forest Sinfonia, the Mozart Oboe Concerto at Jesus College, Cambridge and the Strauss Oboe Concerto in St. Mary’s Church, Nottingham. In 2015 she was awarded a Jellinek soloist’s award by Croydon Symphony Orchestra, and as a result performed the Albinoni D minor concerto in Guildford in 2016 and returned to St. Mary's Church, Nottingham in 2016 for a solo performance of the Marcello D Minor concerto. Nicola also enjoys giving solo recitals, and has performed in venues such as St. Martin-in-the-Fields, St. James Piccadilly, St. Mary's Perivale, Winchester Cathedral, Peterborough Cathedral, St. George’s Hanover Square, St. James’s Church Paddington and Waltham Abbey as a soloist with pianist Jonathan Pease, and also regularly joins chamber groups for recitals. Nicola and Jonathan’s duo has been selected to appear in the Making Music Selected Artists guide and is supported by the Concordia Foundation, and in 2019 will release their first professional CD.
In 2019 she co-founded the Tailleferre Ensemble, a chamber collective whose aim is to support women in music and perform lesser-known chamber works.
In 2012 Nicola was awarded the Evelyn Barbirolli prize for oboe and the Grimaldi Cor Anglais Scholarship at the Royal Academy, and in 2013 she won the concerto class of the Hastings Music Festival Concerto Competition playing the Martinu oboe concerto. In 2013 she was also Highly Commended in the Leila Bull oboe prize at the Academy.
During her Masters Nicola played in many high-profile performances, including principal oboe for Sir Colin Davis, Thierry Fischer and Yan Pascal Tortelier and cor anglais for Jac van Steen and Semyon Bychkov with the Academy Symphony Orchestra. She also performed the solo oboe part in Bainbridge’s Concertante in Moto Perpetuo with the Academy Manson Ensemble conducted by Franck Ollu, in a special birthday celebration concert for the composer.
Before attending the Royal Academy, Nicola completed an MA in languages at Cambridge University. She was very active as both an oboist and a choral scholar in Cambridge. With the help of instrumental and choral scholarships from Jesus College, she was able to pursue her musical ambition, finding many opportunities to perform as both an ensemble player and soloist in the Cambridge music scene.