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.
Xian Zhang is currently in her sixth season as Music Director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. Since taking up this position, she has commissioned works from such composers as Thomas Adès, Daniel Bernard Roumain, Qigang Chen, Christopher Rouse, Vivian Li, Gary Morgan, Christian McBride, and Paquito D’Rivera. She is responsible for introducing an annual Lunar New Year Celebration concert to the orchestra and will remain at the helm of the orchestra through and beyond their 100th anniversary in 2022.
The acclaim she has been receiving for her work in New Jersey has resulted in a strong North American career, with upcoming engagements which include returns to San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia, Detroit New World, Minnesota, Montreal, NAC Ottawa, and Toronto Symphony orchestras. Lauded by Steven Smith in The New York Times as a “virtual-concert jet-setter”, she has been championing works by Nokuthula Ngwenyama, Tyshawn Sorey, and William Grant Still.
Xian Zhang holds the positions of Principal Guest Conductor of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Conductor Emeritus of Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, following a hugely successful period from 2009–2016 as Music Director. She has previously served as Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC National Orchestra & Chorus of Wales and was the first female conductor to hold a titled role with a BBC orchestra. In 2002, she won first prize in the Maazel-Vilar Conductor's Competition. She was appointed New York Philharmonic’s Assistant Conductor in 2002, subsequently becoming their Associate Conductor and the first holder of the Arturo Toscanini Chair.
Michelle Cann, piano
Pianist Michelle Cann made her orchestral debut at age 14 and has since performed as a soloist with numerous ensembles including The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Florida Orchestra, North Carolina Symphony, and New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.
A champion of the music of Florence Price, Ms. Cann performed the New York City premiere of the composer’s Concerto in One Movement with The Dream Unfinished Orchestra in July 2016 and the Philadelphia premiere with The Philadelphia Orchestra in February 2021, which the Philadelphia Inquirer called “exquisite.” She has also performed Price’s works for solo piano and chamber ensemble for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Music Society of Detroit, and the New World Symphony, among other presenters.
Ms. Cann regularly appears in solo and chamber recitals throughout the U.S., China, and South Korea. Notable venues include the National Centre for the Performing Arts (Beijing), John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (Washington, D.C.), Walt Disney Concert Hall (Los Angeles), and the Barbican (London).
Ms. Cann has appeared as cohost and collaborative pianist with NPR’s From The Top and has been featured on WRTI-FM and WHYY-TV in Philadelphia. Her summer festival appearances have included the Taos Chamber Music Festival, Yellow Barn, Perlman Music Program, Music Academy of the West, Geneva Music Festival, and Pianofest in the Hamptons, where she serves as artist in residence.
An award winner at top international competitions, in 2019 she served as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s MAC Music Innovator in recognition of her role as an African-American classical musician who embodies artistry, innovation, and a commitment to education and community engagement.
Ms. Cann studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Curtis Institute of Music, where she holds the inaugural Eleanor Sokoloff Chair in Piano Studies.
Michelle Cann appears by arrangement with the Curtis Institute of Music.
(Born in 1976)
“Mother of Peace and “Lion” in Zulu, Nokuthula Ngwenyama garners great attention for her performances as orchestral soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician. Gramophone magazine proclaims her as “providing solidly shaped music of bold mesmerizing character.” As a composer, Uptown magazine featured her “A Poet of Sound”.
Ms. Ngwenyama gained international prominence winning the Primrose International Viola Competition at 16. A recipient of the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, she has performed with orchestras and as recitalist the world over.
Recent highlights include the premieres of her works Rising for solo multitrack violin and pedals, and Primal Message for viola quintet, performed with the Dover Quartet. Her first viola concerto, commissioned by Christopher Biggs and Irene Marquez Biggs and recorded with the Janáček Philharmonic, is to be released on Peace Mama Productions (PMP) in fall 2021.
Her work Finding the Dream, commissioned by John Clements and written in response to the murder of George Floyd and Martin Luther King’s iconic I Have a Dream speech, received its world premiere with the Phoenix Boys Choir through joint digital emission with ASU/Kerr Cultural Center and the Colburn School. Primal Message for percussion, harp, and strings, an homage to the Arecibo message, received an orchestral world premiere with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on their digital DSO series. Bella Hristova premiered her work Miasma for solo violin—largely based on Covid-19 proteins—on the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis Laureate Series in March 2021.
Born in Los Angeles, California of Zimbabwean-Japanese parentage, Nokuthula Ngwenyama (No-koo-TOO-lah En-gwen-YAH-mah) is the first composer in residence of the Phoenix Chamber Music Society and plays on an Antonius and Hieronymus Amati viola from 1597, on permanent loan from the Biggs Collection.
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.