Nicholas McNair began composing at the piano at the age of six, thereby laying the groundwork for a unique technique of tonal improvisation, which continues to be the central factor in his music making and in his researches into the spiritual roots of classical music.
He became head chorister of Canterbury Cathedral at the age of twelve and gained his professional diploma as an organist at seventeen, before going on to study at the Cambridge University and the Royal College of Music.
While in London Mr. McNair wrote a series of commissioned chamber and choral works supported by the Arts Council of Great Britain, the RVW Trust and other private foundations. He also formed a partnership, "The Gentle Muse," for performance of Baroque, Classical and Contemporary music in places of special architectural interest. The British Council sponsored a concert of his works in Queluz Palace, Portugal in May, 1991, and commissioned a cantata, "Magnificat" for the singer Liliana Bizineche in 1992.
Since 1992 he has worked with the conductor John Eliot Gardiner, researching and preparing for performance the principal operas of Mozart and Beethoven, all of them recorded by Deutsche Grammophon-Archiv. He was responsible for the musical edition of the Magic Flute in 1995 and of Lenore (first version of Fidelio)in 1996, presented in seven countries including the New York Summer Festival, the London Promenade Concerts and the Salzburg Festival.
Nicholas McNair's essays on the philosophical, literary and musical aspects of these operas have appeared in six languages. Aside from extensive work with opera and ballet and numerous concerts accompanying singers and instrumentalists, he has also appeared frequently with the Gulbenkian Orchestra as organist, harpsichordist and pianist, working with Michel Corboz, Franz Bruggen, Michael Zilm, Christopher Hogwood and others. He also directs the Opera class at the Escola Superior de Musica in Lisbon.
Since 1994 he has created live music for over seventy silent films at the Cinematica Portuguesa, appearing also in the Cannes International Film Festival of 1955. He has worked with the conductor Gillian Anderson on several projects for film and orchestra, including Griffith's "Intolerance" and "Birth of a Nation," and George Pallu's "Amor de Perdicao." A new edition of the music for this last film, prepared with his collaboration and featuring his improvisations, was presented by them at the national Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, in July, 1997. He gave a recital of his improvisations at the First Mafra International Festival in October, 1997, and his current plans include the writing of a book on the subject of classical music and improvisations.