Since its debut in 1969, the National Arts Centre (NAC) 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 NAC Orchestra reflects the fabric and values of Canada, reaching and representing the diverse communities we live in with daring programming, powerful storytelling, inspiring artistry, and innovative partnerships.
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.
Each season, the NAC Orchestra features world-class artists such as the newly appointed Artist-in-Residence James Ehnes, Angela Hewitt, Joshua Bell, Xian Zhang, Gabriela Montero, Stewart Goodyear, Jan Lisiecki, and Principal Guest Conductor John Storgårds. As one of the most accessible, inclusive and collaborative orchestras in the world, the NAC Orchestra uses music as a universal language to communicate the deepest of human emotions and connect people through shared experiences.
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)
Hélène Grimaud, piano
Renaissance woman Hélène Grimaud is not just a deeply passionate and committed musical artist whose pianistic accomplishments play a central role in her life. She is a woman with multiple talents that extend far beyond the instrument she plays with such poetic expression and peerless technical control. The French artist has established herself as a committed wildlife conservationist, a compassionate human rights activist, and as a writer.
Grimaud’s musical career is characterized by concerts with most of the world’s major orchestras and many celebrated conductors, as well as extensive tours she undertakes as a soloist and recitalist. Her prodigious contribution to and impact on the world of classical music were recognized by the French government when she was admitted into the Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur (France’s highest decoration) at the rank of Chevalier (Knight).
Hélène Grimaud has been an exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist since 2002. Her recordings have been critically acclaimed and awarded numerous accolades, among them the Cannes Classical Recording of the Year, Choc du Monde de la musique, Diapason d’or, Grand Prix du disque, Record Academy Prize (Tokyo), Midem Classic Award and the Echo Klassik Award. Recent releases include Perspectives (2017), a two-disc personal selection of highlights from her DG catalogue, and Memory (2018), which explores music’s ability to bring the past back to life. In her latest recording The Messenger, released in October 2020, Grimaud has created an intriguing dialogue between the composers Silvestrov and Mozart.
In 1999, Grimaud established the Wolf Conservation Center, her love for the endangered species sparked by a chance encounter with a wolf in northern Florida. She is also a member of the organization Musicians for Human Rights. For a number of years she also found time to pursue a writing career, publishing three books that have appeared in various languages: Variations Sauvages (2003), and the semi-autobiographical novels Leçons particulières (2005) and Retour à Salem (2013).
Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
Robert Schumann was a German composer and music critic. Many of his works—including piano pieces, art song (lieder), symphonies, chamber music, oratorio, opera, dramatic music, and church music—are considered major contributions to their respective genres and significantly influenced subsequent generations of European composers, such as Johannes Brahms, Anton Bruckner, and Gustav Mahler. Stylistically, Schumann’s lifelong love of literature frequently shaped his musical compositions, with traditional structures infused with narrative techniques drawn from literary models, leading to often bold and innovative conceptions. He also developed a new kind of music criticism, which took a historically informed, multi-perspective approach to describing musical processes that involved close analyses of works.
Born in Zwickau, Saxony on June 8, 1810, the youngest of five children, Schumann showed a talent for music at an early age—initially in singing, then on piano; his first compositions included piano miniatures and songs. To fulfill his family’s wishes, he went to Leipzig in 1828 for a course in law, though he left a year later to devote himself to composition lessons and studying piano with Friedrich Wieck.
During the 1830s, after hopes of being a concert pianist were dashed by a weakened middle finger on his right hand, Schumann sought a full-time career as a composer. While it progressed in starts and stops, he carved another intellectual and creative path as a music journalist, eventually founding the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, for which he was editor from 1835 to 1844. Meanwhile, he and Wieck’s daughter, Clara, already a highly lauded, touring concert pianist and composer, had fallen in love. After a protracted battle with Wieck who had forbidden them to marry, they were finally granted legal permission to do so and wedded in September 1840.
The 1840s were artistically fruitful years for Robert as he and Clara settled into family life while also continuing their respective professional careers. With Clara as muse and with her encouragement, Schumann composed numerous songs and completed major works for orchestra during this period, as well as made forays into other genres, such as his opera Genoveva. In 1850, he became Düsseldorf’s municipal music director; in this role, he made his début as a conductor and led the orchestra and the chorus of the Allgemeiner Musikverein in subscription concerts. He continued to compose prolifically, completing close to 100 new works between 1849 and 1854.
Throughout his adult life, Schumann suffered progressively worsening episodes of depression. Eventually, his mental condition deteriorated to the point that on February 27, 1854, he threw himself into the Rhine river, but he was rescued by local fishermen. To protect Clara and his children, he insisted on being placed in an asylum, and was admitted to a private sanitorium at Endenich, near Bonn. He died there on July 29, 1856.
By Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley
Yosuke Kawasaki (concertmaster)
Jessica Linnebach (associate concertmaster)
Noémi Racine Gaudreault (assistant concertmaster)
Mintje van Lier (principal)
Winston Webber (assistant principal)
Jethro Marks (principal)
David Marks (associate principal)
David Goldblatt (assistant principal)
Soo Gyeong Lee*
Rachel Mercer (principal / solo)
Hilda Cowie (acting assistant principal)
Joanna G'froerer (principal)
Charles Hamann (principal)
Kimball Sykes (principal)
Christopher Millard (principal)
Lawrence Vine (principal) (Symphony)
Julie Fauteux (associate principal) (Concerto)
Olivier Brisson* (Symphony)
Karen Donnelly (principal)
Steven van Gulik
Donald Renshaw (principal)
Feza Zweifel (principal)