conductor laureate

Mario Bernardi (1930-2013)

Last updated: January 29, 2014

Mario Bernardi was appointed Conductor Laureate of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in March 1997.  He was the founding conductor of the NAC Orchestra which came into being in 1969, becoming its Music Director in 1971, and continuing in both positions until 1982.  Under his leadership, this hand-picked virtuoso orchestra toured the United States, Mexico, Europe and Russia. In addition he was the Artistic Director of the National Arts Centre's highly successful summer opera festival which produced over twenty operas from 1971 to 1982.

During the 25th anniversary celebrations of the National Arts Centre in 1993-94, Mario Bernardi returned to the Orchestra to conduct his first main season concerts since his departure. Since then special concerts have included a programme of music by Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer recorded by CBC Records for release in 1997 and a programme of music by Canadian composer Alexina Louie also recorded by CBC Records and released in 1999; Festival Canada concerts in 1997 and 1998, a Great Composers Festival concert in 1999 where the NAC Orchestra was joined by the National Youth Orchestra of Canada and tenor Ben Heppner; a fundraising gala with Kathleen Battle in 1998; concerts in 1999 featuring guest violinist Itzhak Perlman to honour the 30th anniversary of the opening of the National Arts Centre; concerts with Dmitri Hvorostovsky in 2000, and a concert “Live from Rideau Hall” in 2002 broadcast live on CBC Radio and Television.

Mr. Bernardi has been the Principal Conductor of the CBC Radio Orchestra (formerly the CBC Vancouver Orchestra) since 1983 and is the Conductor Laureate of the Calgary Philharmonic which he led for nine seasons.  He has appeared with many orchestras including the Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, San Francisco, Detroit, Indianapolis, Houston, and Columbus symphonies.

In recent seasons, Mr. Bernardi has led the summer sessions of the National Youth Orchestra of Canada.  He has appeared with Ben Heppner at the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto and with Cecilia Bartoli in Göteborg, Oslo, Munich, Vancouver, Berkeley, Calgary and Miami.  Other operatic engagements include Le Nozze di Figarowith Opera Lyra Ottawa, and Eugene Onegin with Calgary Opera, Les Pêcheurs des perles with the Chicago Lyric Opera, and Don Giovanni with Calgary Opera.

Mario Bernardi was born in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, of Italian heritage. He received his early musical training in Italy at the Venice Conservatory, returned to Canada to complete his studies at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto, and went on to establish a considerable reputation as a pianist.

He made his operatic debut in 1957 with the Canadian Opera Company and  in 1963 was invited to conduct at Sadler's Wells Opera, where he was appointed Music Director in 1966.  Mr. Bernardi made his United States debut in 1967 with the San Francisco Opera's productions of Un Ballo in Maschera and La Bohème. He has appeared with the New York City Opera for several productions including Die FledermausDer RosenkavalierAlbert HerringLa Clemenza di Tito and Don Quichotte. His debut with the Metropolitan Opera was in January 1984 during its centennial season with a production of Rinaldo starring Marilyn Horne that was originally produced at the NAC in 1982. Other opera appearances have included the Houston Grand Opera, the Washington Opera, l'Opéra de Montréal, the Canadian Opera Company, Wolftrap Festival, the Calgary Opera, and the Santa Fe Opera. In February 1994 Mr. Bernardi made his debut at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden conducting a new production of Cherubin.

In 1972 Mario Bernardi was named a Companion of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest honour.  He holds honorary degrees from the universities of British Columbia, Calgary, Lakehead, Windsor, Laurentian and Ottawa.  In July 1999 Mario Bernardi received the Jean A. Chalmers National Music Award of $25,000, which recognizes Canada’s premier artists.  In November 1999 he was honoured at the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards Gala as the recipient of the National Arts Centre Award, and in 2001 received the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award.

Mr. Bernardi has made over thirty recordings with many Canadian orchestras including the NAC Orchestra, the Vancouver Symphony, Calgary Philharmonic, and the CBC Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, recording for HMV, RCA, CBS and CBC Records. He recently completed a series of Rachmaninov music for piano and orchestra with The Toronto Symphony. The NAC Orchestra's CELEBRATION CD in honour of its 25thanniversary season includes several pieces led by Mr. Bernardi.

NAC media featuring Mario Bernardi (1930-2013)