Since its debut in 1969, the National Arts Centre Orchestra has been praised for the passion and clarity of its performances, its visionary educational programs, and its prominent role in nurturing Canadian creativity. Under the leadership of Music Director Alexander Shelley, the Orchestra performs a full series of subscription concerts at the National Arts Centre each season, featuring world-class artists such as James Ehnes, Angela Hewitt, Joshua Bell, Xian Zhang, Gabriela Montero, Stewart Goodyear, Jan Lisiecki, and Principal Guest Conductor John Storgårds.
Alexander Shelley began his tenure as Music Director in 2015, following Pinchas Zukerman’s 16 seasons at the helm. Principal Associate Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and former Chief Conductor of the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra (2009 - 2017), he has been in demand around the world, conducting the Rotterdam Philharmonic, DSO Berlin, Leipzig Gewandhaus, and Stockholm Philharmonic, among others, and maintains a regular relationship with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie and the German National Youth Orchestra.
National and international tours have been a hallmark of the National Arts Centre Orchestra from the very beginning. The Orchestra has toured 95 times since its inauguration in 1969, visiting 120 cities in Canada, as well as 20 countries and 138 cities internationally. In recent years, the orchestra has undertaken performance and education tours across Canada, as well as the U.K. and China. In 2019, the Orchestra marked its 50th anniversary with a seven-city European tour that included performances and education events in England, France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, and that showcased the work of six Canadian composers.
The NAC Orchestra has recorded many of the more than 80 new works commissioned since its inception, for radio and on over 40 commercial recordings. These include Angela Hewitt’s 2015 JUNO Award-winning album of Mozart Piano Concertos; the groundbreaking Life Reflected, which includes My Name is Amanda Todd by Jocelyn Morlock, winner of the 2018 JUNO for Classical Composition of the Year; and from the 2019 JUNO nominated New Worlds, Ana Sokolović’s Golden Slumbers Kiss Your Eyes, 2019 JUNO Winner for Classical Composition of the Year.
The NAC Orchestra reaches a national and international audience through touring, recordings, and extensive educational outreach. The Orchestra performed on Parliament Hill for the 2019 Canada Day noon concert in a live broadcast for CBC Television.
Alexander Shelley succeeded Pinchas Zukerman as Music Director of Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra in September 2015. The ensemble has since been praised as “an orchestra transformed … hungry, bold, and unleashed” (Ottawa Citizen) and Alexander’s programming credited for turning the orchestra “almost overnight … into one of the more audacious orchestras in North America.” (Maclean’s magazine).
Born in London in October 1979, Alexander, the son of celebrated concert pianists, studied cello and conducting in Germany and first gained widespread attention when he was unanimously awarded first prize at the 2005 Leeds Conductors' Competition, with the press describing him as "the most exciting and gifted young conductor to have taken this highly prestigious award. His conducting technique is immaculate, everything crystal clear and a tool to his inborn musicality”. In August 2017 Alexander concluded his tenure as Chief Conductor of the Nürnberger Symphoniker, a position he held since September 2009. The partnership was hailed by press and audience alike as a golden era for the orchestra, where he transformed the ensemble’s playing, education work and international touring activities. These have included concerts in Italy, Belgium, China and a re-invitation to the Musikverein in Vienna.
In January 2015 he assumed the role of Principal Associate Conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with whom he curates an annual series of concerts at Cadogan Hall and tours both nationally and internationally.
Described as “a natural communicator both on and off the podium” (Daily Telegraph) Alexander works regularly with the leading orchestras of Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australasia, including the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin,, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Gothenburg Symphony, Stockholm Philharmonic, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Sao Paulo Symphony and the Melbourne and New Zealand Symphony Orchestras. This season’s collaborations include debuts with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de Belgique, Orchestre Metropolitain Montreal, Orquesta Sinfonica de Valencia, and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; alongside returns to MDR Sinfonieorchester Leipzig, Orchestre Philharmonique de Luxembourg and the Tasmanian symphony orchestras. He will also embark on an extensive tour of Europe with the National Arts Centre Orchestra performing in cities such as London, Paris, Stockholm and Copenhagen
Highlights of the previous season include debuts with the Helsinki and Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestras and Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, as well as at the Aspen Festival in Colorado. Re-invitations include Konzerthausorchester Berlin, RTE National Symphony Orchestra and a return to the Tivoli Festival with the Copenhagen Philharmonic.
Alexander’s operatic engagements have included The Merry Widow and Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet (Den Kongelige Opera); La Bohème (Opera Lyra/National Arts Centre), Iolanta (Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen), Così fan Tutte (Opéra National de Montpellier), The Marriage of Figaro (Opera North) in 2015 and he led a co-production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel in 2017 with the NACO and Canadian Opera Company.
Alexander was awarded the ECHO prize in 2016 for his second Deutsche Grammophon recording, “Peter and the Wolf”, and both the ECHO and Deutsche Grunderpreis in his capacity as Artistic Director of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen’s “Zukunftslabor”, a visionary project of grass-roots engagement, which uses music as a source for social cohesion and integration. Through his work as Founder and Artistic Director of the Schumann Camerata and their ground-breaking “440Hz” series in Dusseldorf, and through his leadership roles in Nuremberg, Bremen and Ottawa, inspiring future generations of classical musicians and listeners has always been central to Alexander’s work. He has led the German National Youth Orchestra on several tours of Germany and works with many thousands of young people a year in outreach projects. He regularly gives informed and passionate pre- and post-concert talks on his programmes, as well as numerous interviews and podcasts on the role of classical music in society. He has a wealth of experience conducting and presenting major open-air events - in Nuremberg alone he has, over the course of nine years, hosted more than half a million people at the annual Klassik Open Air concerts - Europe’s largest classical music event.
The Music Director role is supported by Elinor Gill Ratcliffe, C.M., O.N.L., LL.D. (hc)
Marie Bégin, violin
Canadian violinist Marie Bégin has performed in recitals in Canada, the United States, The United Kingdom, Europe, and China. She was soloist with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, the Orchestre symphonique de Québec, Les Violons du Roy, and the Agora Symphony Orchestra, among others. She is frequently invited to perform in several renowned ensembles, notably, as assistant concertmaster of the Hulencourt Soloist Chamber Orchestra for concerts in Milan, Brussels, and Spain. A passionate chamber player, she collaborates with renowned artists such as Charles Richard-Hamelin and Andrew Wan. At age 26, she was appointed first violin of the Saguenay Quartet (Alcan) as well as concertmaster of the Orchestre symphonique du Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean. She also forms a permanent duo with pianist Samuel Blanchette-Gagnon, a group that has been heard at the Riviera Music Academy in Switzerland, among others. The duo is currently working on a recording of 20th century works for violin and piano.
A graduate of the Conservatoire de musique de Québec, Marie Bégin studied with Andrée Azar, Jean Angers, and Darren Lowe. She then pursued her studies in Europe with Zakhar Bron, at his academy in Switzerland, but also at the Menuhin Academy, Kronberg Academy, and Mozarteum University.
Marie Bégin has been selected in several major international competitions, including the Wieniawski International Violin Competition in Poland and the Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition. She has won several prizes, including the grand prize at the Festival-Concours Pierre-de-Saurel and the international Rotary Douja d'Or prize awarded by Switzerland, France, Germany, and Italy. She is supported by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec. She plays on a J.B. Vuillaume violin (1850) graciously loaned by Canimex Inc.
Jennifer Tran (she/her) HBMus., MMus., is an emerging second-generation Vietnamese musician specialising in classical and contemporary music. Based in Brampton, Ontario one of the cities covered by the Ajetance Treaty 19 Lands and Territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit, Jennifer enjoys a musical life as a soloist, chamber musician and music educator.
She was featured as one of the 30 Under 30 Classical Musicians in Canada by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in August 2020. She is a promising saxophonist who is engaged in working alongside musicians to re-imagine the performance of works she loves to better serve her communities.
Jennifer is the soprano saxophonist of Dialectica, a saxophone quartet who performs and produces original music by exploring new musical identities through the discourse of jazz and classical genres. Their flair led them to their film debut as recording musicians and actors, in acclaimed filmmaker Atom Egoyan’s 2019 film Guest of Honour. Jennifer is also a founding member and baritone saxophonist of aksəs quartet, a collective dedicated towards the curation and performance of works that resonate with and critique our social and cultural identities.
With the support of her family, friends, and institution, Jennifer was granted the privilege of learning and performing alongside talented musicians from all over the world at concerto competitions, festivals, and summer programs. Some of these include the Toronto Creative Music Lab in Canada, the Université de Européenne de Saxophone in France, and the Hamamatsu International Wind Instrument Academy and Festival in Japan.
As a winner of both the 2019 University of Toronto Symphony Orchestra (UTSO) and 2020 Wind Ensemble (UTWE) concerto competitions, Jennifer performed with the UTSO in October 2019 under the baton of conductor Uri Mayer. Should the health and safety of everyone is guaranteed, Jennifer may perform with the UTWE under the baton of conductor Dr. Gillian MacKay. She has also performed with the Brampton Rose Orchestra as a concerto soloist under the direction of conductor Sabatino Vacca in March 2018.
Her most recent work appears in Canadian composers’ Alex Eddington’s Time Will Erase and Frank Horvat’s Music for Self-Isolation recordings.
Jennifer conferred both her Bachelor of Music with Honours (2016) and Master of Music in Saxophone Performance (2020) degrees at the University of Toronto under the guidance of Dr. Wallace Halladay.
London-born Anna Clyne is a GRAMMY-nominated composer of acoustic and electro-acoustic music. Described as a “composer of uncommon gifts and unusual methods” in a New York Times profile and as “fearless” by NPR, Clyne is one of the most acclaimed and in-demand composers of her generation, often embarking on collaborations with innovative choreographers, visual artists, filmmakers, and musicians.
Several upcoming projects explore Clyne’s fascination with visual arts, including Color Field for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, inspired by the artwork of Rothko, and Between the Rooms, a film with choreographer Kim Brandstrup and LA Opera. Within Her Arms opened the New York Philharmonic’s 2021-2022 season. Other recent premieres include PIVOT, which opened the 2021 Edinburgh International Festival; A Thousand Mornings for the Fidelio Trio; Strange Loops for the Orchestra of St. Luke’s; Woman Holding a Balance, a film collaboration with Orchestra of St. Luke's and artist Jyll Bradley; and In the Gale for cello and bird song, created with and performed by Yo-Yo Ma.
Clyne composed a trilogy of Beethoven-inspired works that premiered in 2020 for Beethoven’s 250th anniversary: Stride for the Australian Composers Orchestra; Breathing Statues for the Calidore String Quartet; and Shorthand, premiered by The Knights at Caramoor. Other recent premieres include Sound and Fury, first performed by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Pekka Kuusisto in Edinburgh; and her Rumi-inspired cello concerto, DANCE, premiered with Inbal Segev at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. DANCEwas also recently recorded for AVIE Records by Segev and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Marin Alsop, and has garnered more than seven million plays on Spotify.
Clyne served as Composer-in-Residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, L’Orchestre national d’Île-de-France, and Berkeley Symphony. She is currently the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s Associate Composer through the 2021-2022 season and a mentor composer for Orchestra of St Luke's.
Clyne’s music is represented on the AVIE Records, Cantaloupe Music, Cedille, MajorWho Media, New Amsterdam, Resound, Tzadik, and VIA labels. Both Prince of Clouds and Night Ferry were nominated for 2015 GRAMMY Awards.
Maurice Ravel (1875–1937)
Maurice Ravel is considered one of the early 20th century’s most original composers. Although he was frequently regarded as an outsider to the developments of French music during his lifetime (a position he himself also somewhat cultivated), he was eventually recognized as one of its key figures. He composed in many of the major genres, including operas, ballets and orchestral suites, vocal and choral works, pieces for chamber ensemble and piano, as well as completed several orchestrations of other composers’ works. His music is characterized by a distinctly refined but also sensual approach to form and sound.
Ravel was born on March 7, 1875, in Ciboure, in the Basses-Pyrénées, but grew up in Paris. In 1889, he was admitted to the city’s famed Conservatoire. Despite his desire to succeed, he struggled to maintain his place; he was dismissed twice—in 1895 and 1900 from the piano and compositional classes, respectively, for failing to win any prizes. He later attempted and failed to win the Prix de Rome five times. Nevertheless, by 1905, several of his works were performed at the Société nationale de musique, the dominant organization for contemporary French music. However, academics and critics relegated him to the margins. To gain independence from their authority, he helped to found a new society in 1909, the Société musicale indépendante, which would perform French and foreign works of all genres and styles.
During WWI, Ravel served his country as a driver for the motor transport corps; his experience, along with personal illness and the death his mother, with whom he was very close, took a toll on his creative work. He eventually recuperated, and by the 1920s, became regarded as France’s leading composer. His reputation abroad was also cemented through many successful tours, including a significant one to the USA and Canada in 1928, during which he conducted, performed, gave interviews, and lectured on contemporary music. Despite his status, Ravel remained alienated from the Parisian music establishment and the avant-garde. For the rest of his life, he lived, with his cats and housekeeper, in Montfort-l’Amaury. He died in Paris on December 28, 1937.
By Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley
Zosha Di Castri is a Canadian composer/pianist living in New York. Her work (which has been performed in Canada, the U.S., South America and Europe) extends beyond purely concert music, including projects with electronics, sound arts, and collaborations with video and dance.
Ms. Di Castri's orchestral compositions have been commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony, New World Symphony and Esprit Symphony, and have been featured by the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Amazonas Philharmonic and the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, among others. She has also worked with many leading new music groups including Talea Ensemble, Wet Ink and the NEM.
Zosha Di Castri was the recipient of the Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music for her work Cortège in 2012. She completed a Bachelor of Music at McGill University, and in 2009, participated in the NAC Composer Program as part of the Summer Music Institute. She has a doctorate from Columbia University in composition. She is now Assistant Professor of music at Columbia.
Darius Milhaud (1892–1974)
Darius Milhaud was a French composer, perhaps best known today for his association with the 1920s’ avant-garde collective, “Les Six”. He was enormously prolific, writing music in every conceivable genre—grand opera, film music, symphonies, string quartets, concertos, children’s pieces, songs…and more. In his compositions, Milhaud pioneered the use of percussion, polymodality (the simultaneous use of multiple keys or modes in a piece), jazz idioms, and aleatoric (or “chance”) techniques. His works often fused musical sources as diverse as Provençal tunes, Comtat Venaissin Jewish liturgical music, Brazilian folk music, and older classical music, with a French sensibility for supple melodies and contrapuntal textures.
Born in Marseilles, France, on September 4, 1892, Milhaud grew up in Aix-en-Provence. He took up violin at age seven and eventually, in 1909, he went to study at the Paris Conservatoire, taking classes in violin and orchestral playing as well as in composition and orchestration. Health issues prohibited him from serving in the armed forces in WWI but he found work aiding Belgian refugees. Between 1917 and 1919, he was the attaché in charge of propaganda in Brazil, where he also organized concerts and lectures in support of the Red Cross.
Milhaud returned to Paris in 1920, where, during the next decade, he had a productive and successful career as a composer, pianist, and music critic. In the 1930s, he wrote a substantial amount of film music and incidental music for theatre productions, much of which he refashioned into concert works.
Being a prominent Jewish artist, Milhaud knew he’d be wanted by the Germans, so in 1940, he emigrated to the USA, where he took up a teaching post at Mills College in Oakland. He also taught at the summer school in Aspen, Colorado, and was honorary director of the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara from 1948 to 1951. For the remainder of his life, he split his time between France (he was professor of composition at the Paris Conservatoire from 1947) and the USA. All the while, Milhaud continued to compose unceasingly; he left no unfinished works when he died in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 22, 1974.
By Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley
Errollyn Wallen (Born in 1958)
Errollyn Wallen—"renaissance woman of contemporary British music" (The Observer)—is as respected as a singer-songwriter of pop-influenced songs as she is a composer of contemporary new music. The motto of Errollyn’s Ensemble X, “we don’t break down barriers in music… we don’t see any”, reflects her genuine, free-spirited approach. Commissions have ranged from the BBC to the Royal Opera House, for BBC’s The Last Night of the Proms (2020), the London Symphony Orchestra, Leipzig Ballet, and, most recently, the pop band, Clean Bandit. Her new EP Peace on Earth has just been released by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge. Errollyn has won numerous awards for her music including the Ivor Novello Award for Classical Music. In 2007 she was awarded an MBE and in 2020 awarded a CBE, both for services to music.