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)
Florence Price (1887–1953)
Florence Price was an American composer, pianist, organist, and teacher. She created over 300 works, including for orchestra, various combinations of chamber ensemble, choir, voice and piano, organ, and solo piano. Her compositions often blend Euro-American art music forms with elements from her African American heritage, such as melodies that reference those of spirituals.
During her life, Price was the first African American woman to earn major recognition as a symphonic composer. However, despite her successes, she struggled to have her works widely performed, and openly acknowledged that her being a woman and a person of colour were barriers. Much of her catalogue was neglected after her death, but in recent years, new research about her life and work and the revival of her compositions in performance have begun to more fully illuminate her contributions to American music.
Price (née Smith) was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, on April 9, 1887, during a period when white supremacy was being restored in the South. Her mother was her first music teacher, who carefully nurtured her talent. Price went on to study composition at Boston’s New England Conservatory, one of the few institutions that admitted African Americans at the time. After earning diplomas in organ and piano, she returned to the South to teach and compose. In 1928, to escape growing racial oppression in Little Rock, Price and her family moved to Chicago. There, she flourished creatively; she won prizes and publication contracts for her piano pieces, penned popular songs for radio commercials, and arranged spirituals for performance. In 1931, she began writing symphonies. Her Symphony in E Minor won the Wanamaker Prize in 1932, which led to its performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Frederick Stock—the first work by a Black woman composer to be performed by a major American orchestra.
The success of her E Minor symphony cemented Price’s reputation and her orchestral works were subsequently performed by ensembles such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, American Symphony Orchestra, and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Celebrated singers such as Marion Anderson and Leontyne Price interpreted her songs, and her organ and piano pieces, which she also taught, were regularly performed. Price remained active as a composer and teacher until her death in Chicago on June 9, 1953.
By Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley
Franz Schubert (1797–1828)
During his remarkably short life, Austrian composer Franz Peter Schubert was enormously prolific, and made important contributions to vocal music (most notably, the German lied), piano music, chamber music, and orchestral music. For his instrumental music in particular, he drew on the techniques of Haydn, Mozart, and later, Beethoven, while shaping them to convey new depths of emotional expression. Among the hallmarks of his idiosyncratic compositional style are unexpected key changes and novel harmonic juxtapositions, looser formal structures, and lyrically expansive melodies.
Born in Vienna on January 31, 1797, Schubert took his first lessons in piano, violin, singing, and organ during his childhood. His talent for composing was already evident in his earliest surviving works—including string quartets and his first symphony—written at age 13. However, given the precariousness of a career as an independent composer, he became certified as a teacher and took a position at his father’s school. Even with the full-time demands of the job, he continued to compose, and was startingly productive; by 1816, not yet 20 years of age, he had written over 300 solo songs, five symphonies, four Singspiele (a type of German opera), seven string quartets, and numerous smaller works. Yet, public recognition of his work by way of performances and publications did not develop until after 1817.
By 1822, Schubert was thriving as a professional composer. His extraordinary output, achieved through a demanding work schedule, was matched by a hedonistic and likely promiscuous social life that he pursued with equal intensity. In early 1823, he began showing symptoms of syphilis, the physical manifestations of which led him to become increasingly reclusive. His musical work, however, continued unabated, and in what would be the last four years of his life, he completed several significant masterpieces, including the String Quartet in D minor (“Death and the Maiden”), the Ninth Symphony (“the Great”), the Piano Sonata in D Major, and the song cycle Die Winterreise. Schubert died in Vienna on November 19, 1828. Most of his vast catalogue of compositions only came to light after his death.
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Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)
Russian composer Igor Stravinsky was one of the most influential musical figures of the 20th century and his music is still among the most frequently performed today. His works encompass ballet and opera, orchestral pieces, songs, choral works, and chamber and solo instrumental works, among others. As a whole, Stravinsky’s compositional catalogue is stylistically diverse and reflects his interest in and absorption of certain major musical developments of the period: from the colourful Russian nationalism of his early ballets, to an aggressive, avant-garde style in the First World War Years, to the pared-down neoclassicism of the 1920s to 1950s, to finally, 12-tone serialism.
Stravinsky was born in Oranienbaum (now Lomonosov), near St. Petersburg, on June 17, 1882. The third son of Fyodor, one of Russia’s most notable bass-baritones, the young Igor grew up surrounded by musicians and composers who frequented his parents’ flat, where he also had access to his father’s large library of music scores. He entered St. Petersburg University as a law student though he wanted to study music; he ultimately did so in his own time, taking lessons first with students of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and later with the Russian master himself. In 1910, Stravinsky was catapulted to fame with the Paris Opéra premiere of the ballet, The Firebird, his first of many collaborations with the impresario Serge Diaghilev and his Ballet Russes. Petrushka followed in 1911 and in 1913, The Rite of Spring—a shockingly violent and dissonant score that became a landmark work of early 20th century musical modernism.
After experimenting with avant-garde techniques, Stravinsky embarked on an extended period composing in the “neo-classical” style. In these works, he invigorated 18th-century forms and processes with his own harmonic and rhythmic methods. This aesthetic shift coincided with a move from his native Russia to France in 1920, and continued when he emigrated to the United States in 1941. In the late 1950s, Stravinsky turned to the technique of serialism, which became the basis of his late compositions. Throughout these decades, he maintained a commitment to concert work, appearing as a piano soloist and conductor in performances of his own music. Stravinsky died in New York, April 6, 1971, and is buried on Venice’s cemetery island of San Michele, near the grave of Serge Diaghilev.
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