The Nieuw Ensemble was founded in 1980 in Amsterdam. It had a unique instrumental structure, using plucked instruments such as mandolin, guitar and harp in combination with wind, string and percussion. Ed Spanjaard has been the principal conductor since 1982. The lack of literature for this group made it as dependent upon composers, as composers have always been upon musicians. The Nieuw Ensemble thus set out to build its own repertoire, encouraged by continuous contact with composers from different cultures, countries and generations, and long-term workshops for young composers. More than one thousand pieces have been written for the ensemble.

The Nieuw Ensemble enjoyed a firm international standing and has been widely praised for its innovative programming. Highly successful programmes have been those dedicated to the work of a single composer, such as Luciano Berio, Carola Bauckholt, Pierre Boulez, Unsuk Chin, Elliott Carter, Franco Donatoni, Tan Dun, Brian Ferneyhough, Mauricio Kagel, György Kurtág, Ton de Leeuw, György Ligeti, Theo Loevendie, Misato Mochizuki, Luigi Nono and Guo Wenjing. The ensemble initiated festivals such as Complexity? (Rotterdam 1991), Rules & Games (Amsterdam 1995), Improvisations (1996), the multi-cultural Festival of Plucked Instruments (1998), The Refined Ear (2003) on microtonality, Inspired Time (2004) on rhythm, OpenMusic (2005-6) on computer aided composition and Orientations (2006-7) on western and non-western instruments. In international co-productions new projects has been brought to Brussels, Paris, Munich, Edinburgh, Lisbon, Strasbourg, Venice, Warsaw, Turin, New York...

In 1998 the Nieuw Ensemble and its artistic director Joël Bons were awarded the Prince Bernhard Fund Music Prize for their ‘markedly lively and adventurous programming which can be described as crossing borders, both in the literal and figurative sense’. The ensemble introduced a large number of non-Western composers in premiere programmes focussing on the Caucasus, China, Japan, the Middle East and Central and South America.

Chinese connection
Since 1991, programmes featuring new works written especially for the ensemble by Chinese composers such as Tan Dun, Qu Xiaosong, Xu Shuya, Chen Qigang and Guo Wenjing have attracted wide attention. In spring 1997 the ensemble toured to China for the first time, followed by another visit to Beijing in 2008. In April 2010 the group gave concerts in Hong Kong and Shanghai (World Expo). The NE was ensemble in residence of the Shanghai New Music Week in September 2011, and in May 2014 guest of the Shanghai Spring International Music Festival with three concerts.

The Nieuw Ensemble has released compact discs with music by Donatoni, Carter, Ferneyhough, Gerhard, Loevendie, Poulenc, Honegger, Guo Wenjing, Kagel, Tsoupaki, De Raaff and Chinese composers, and documentary films about Boulez’ Eclat and five Chinese composers.

Atlas Ensemble
In 2002, Joël Bons founded the Atlas Ensemble, a unique chamber orchestra uniting thirty brilliant musicians from the East, the Near East and Europe. The idea originates in earlier successful projects by the Nieuw Ensemble with combinations of western and non-western instruments. With the Atlas Ensemble these experiences are stretched and elaborated into a richer, more balanced instrumental palette. Since 2009 the ensemble organized the Atlas Lab at the Conservatory of Amsterdam and in 2012 and 2014 the Atlas Festival took place in Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ Amsterdam.