Experience the Orchestral world premiere of Jake Heggie, Joshua Hopkins, and Margaret Atwood’s Songs For Murdered Sisters 

January 20, 2023 – OTTAWA – From February 9-14, 2023, the NAC Orchestra tours three cities with a deeply emotional program conducted by NACO Music Director Alexander Shelley. The NAC Orchestra will perform in Ottawa’s Southam Hall from February 9-10, in Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall on February 11, and in Kingston’s Isabel Bader Centre on February 14. 

Co-commissioned by the National Arts Centre and Houston Grand Opera, Songs For Murdered Sisters is dedicated to the memory of victims of gender-based violence, including Joshua Hopkins's sister Nathalie Warmerdam, as well as Anastasia Kuzyk and Carol Culleton. 

Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins performs Songs for Murdered Sisters, a personal and powerful new song cycle that conveys the tragedy of lives needlessly lost, composed by Jake Heggie based on original poetry by Margaret Atwood. Bookending the concert are the Faust-Overture by Mayer and Brahms's furiously passionate Symphony No. 4. 

“Atwood’s precise, heartfelt language elicited a profoundly empathetic score from Heggie; the music—tender and twinkling, haunted and sad—embodies a sibling’s love being forced to incorporate sorrow.” 

- The New Yorker 

Donations to the Women's Sexual Assault Centre of Renfrew County (WSAC) are encouraged on the Ottawa concert event page. WSAC offers support to women who have experienced or are experiencing some form of sexual violence. They also offer support to family members, as they did for Joshua's family when his sister and two other women were murdered in 2015.  


On the morning of September 22, 2015, in Renfrew County, Ontario, one man went on a killing spree, brutally murdering three ex-partners in their separate homes. They were victims of a crime now recognized as one of the worst domestic violence cases in Canadian history. The murders devastated the rural Ottawa Valley community where baritone Joshua Hopkins grew up – his sister, Nathalie Warmerdam, was one of these women. 

Hopkins has since set out on a journey to use his voice to wake people up to the global epidemic of gender-based violence – and their part in it. His call to action was answered by two exceptional creators. Jake Heggie, hailed by the Wall Street Journal as “the world’s most popular 21st-century opera and art song composer,” agreed to write the music, and Margaret Atwood, the Booker Prize-winning author of more than 50 books of fiction and poetry, including The Handmaid’s Tale, wrote the searing words. 

The result is a set of 8 songs, collectively titled Songs for Murdered Sisters, which have now been released as both a film and a digital album. In partnership with co-commissioner Houston Grand Opera, the chamber version premiered in March 2022 at Rothko Chapel in Houston. The orchestral version receives its live world premiere with co-commissioner the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, Ontario, in February 2023, with subsequent performances in Toronto and Kingston. 

"I have known two women who were murdered, both by jealous former romantic partners, so the killing of Joshua’s sister resonated with me. But I could not promise anything: with songs and poems, they either arrive or they don't. I then wrote the sequence in one session. I made the ‘sisters’ plural because they are indeed – unhappily – very plural. Sisters, daughters, mothers. So many.” 

Margaret Atwood 


Concert tickets are already available to purchase online in Ottawa, Toronto, and Kingston.  


More information to come 


The National Arts Centre Foundation wishes to acknowledge the leadership support of Mark Motors Group, Official Car of the NAC Orchestra. The NAC Orchestra Music Director role is supported by Elinor Gill Ratcliffe, C.M., O.N.L., LLD (hc).  Special thanks to the Janice & Earle O’Born Fund for Excellence in the Performing Arts.  


Known as one of the finest singer-actors of his generation, JUNO Award-winning and Grammy-nominated Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins has been hailed by Opera Today as having “a glistening, malleable baritone of exceptional beauty, and the technique to exploit its full range of expressive possibilities from comic bluster to melting beauty.” 

Having established himself as a prominent leading artist throughout the United States and Canada, Joshua appears regularly at The Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, The Santa Fe Opera and Washington National Opera amongst many others and has performed under the baton of renowned conductors such as Sir Andrew Davis, Alan Gilbert, Matthew Halls, James Gaffigan, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and Hans Graf. 


Margaret Atwood is the author of more than fifty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays.  Her novels include Cat’s Eye, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, and the Maddaddam trilogy.  Her 1985 classic, The Handmaid’s Tale, was followed in 2019 by a sequel, The Testaments, which was a global number one bestseller and won the Booker Prize. In 2020 she published Dearly, her first collection of poetry in a decade, followed in 2022 with Burning Questions, a selection of essays from 2004 - 2021.  Her next collection of short stories, Old Babes in the Wood, will be published in March 2023.  Atwood has won numerous awards, including the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Imagination in Service to Society, the Franz Kafka Prize, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.  In 2019 she was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour for services to literature.  She has also worked as a cartoonist, illustrator, librettist, playwright, and puppeteer.   


Jake Heggie is the American composer of nine full-length operas, including Dead Man Walking and Great Scott with librettos by Terrence McNally; Moby-Dick, Three Decembers, It’s a Wonderful Life, If I Were You, and Two Remain with librettos by Gene Scheer; and numerous one-acts. He has also composed nearly 300 art songs, as well as chamber, choral, and orchestral works. Heggie is currently at work with Jawole Zollar and Gene Scheer on Intelligence, a new stage work commissioned by Houston Grand Opera. New York’s Metropolitan Opera has announced new productions of Dead Man Walking and Moby-Dick for upcoming seasons.  


Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra is a world-class ensemble of outstanding classical musicians from across Canada and around the world, under the inspiring leadership of Music Director, Alexander Shelley.  Since its debut in 1969, the 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, as well as reaching national and international audiences through touring and recordings.  

The Orchestra has a rich touring history and 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 travelled across Canada, the United Kingdom and China. In 2019, the Orchestra marked its 50th anniversary by showcasing the work of six Canadian composers in a seven-city European tour that included performances and education events in England, France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden; and in April 2022, it made its long-awaited return to Carnegie Hall.  The Orchestra breaks boundaries with its regular commissions of new creations, including the critically acclaimed Life Reflected (2016) and UNDISRUPTED (2021).   Its commissions and recordings have won JUNO Awards for Best New Classical Composition in 2018 and 2019. 


The National Arts Centre is Canada’s bilingual, multi-disciplinary home for the performing arts. The NAC presents, creates, produces, and co-produces performing arts programming in various streams — the NAC Orchestra, Dance, English Theatre in collaboration with Black Theatre Workshop, French Theatre, Indigenous Theatre, and Popular Music and Variety — and nurtures the next generation of audiences and artists from across Canada. The NAC is located in the National Capital Region on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe.   

Join our email list for the latest updates!