NAC Orchestra unveils "FOCUS: Clara, Robert, Johannes" classical music festival to open the 2023-2024 season

Discover the powerful bond between legendary composers Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann, and Johannes Brahms

July 12, 2023 – OTTAWA – The National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO) is delighted to present FOCUS: Clara, Robert, Johannes, a two-week festival from September 13 to 21, 2023, that will open the 2023-2024 season.

This edition of FOCUS will celebrate the music and intimate connections between three extraordinary composers: Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann, and Johannes Brahms. These renowned 19th-century composers shared profound personal and musical bonds, which will be explored through a series of performances and events curated by Alexander Shelley, Music Director of the NAC Orchestra.

FOCUS will feature a diverse range of programming, including mainstage concerts at Southam Hall in the National Arts Centre (NAC), as well as a special chamber music event at the Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre and includes pre-concert talks by music scholars Hannah Chan-Hartley, Jan Swafford and Julie Pedneault-Deslauriers. Additional events and opportunities to meet the performers will be announced in the coming weeks, promising a rich experience for attendees.

Renowned artists invited to the NAC include GRAMMY-winners James Ehnes and Emanuel Ax, Canadian superstar pianist Stewart Goodyear, as well as British pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason and German cellist Nicolas Altstaedt making their debuts with the NAC Orchestra. Canadian mezzo-soprano Alex Hetherington and the captivating soprano Midori Marsh will perform songs by Clara Schumann with pianists Liz Upchurch and Darren Creech. On closing night (September 21) the NAC Orchestra will premiere commissions by Sarah Slean and Cecilia Livingston, who have created orchestral arrangements of Clara Schumann songs. Every concert at Southam Hall will be led by the esteemed Music Director of the NAC Orchestra, Alexander Shelley.

The festival will culminate in a remarkable event as Alexander Shelley and the NAC Orchestra conclude their acclaimed Clara, Robert, Johannes recording project, which encompasses major works by Clara Schumann, as well as the complete symphonies by Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann. The final album, marking the completion of the Orchestra’s JUNO-nominated Clara, Robert, Johannes project, will be released worldwide by the Canadian music label Analekta on September 22, 2023. This four-part album series explores the personal and artistic connections between these three composers, providing listeners with liner notes from leading writers and music historians Jan Swafford and Julie Pedneault-Deslauriers.

List of Concerts:

Emanuel Ax plays Brahms 
September 13, 2023 
Southam Hall, NAC

Schumann’s Cello Concerto & Brahms 1 
September 14, 2023 
Southam Hall, NAC

Music for a Sunday Afternoon: Clara, Robert, Johannes 
September 17, 2023 
Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre

James Ehnes & Brahms’s Violin Concerto 
September 20, 2023 
Southam Hall, NAC

Ehnes, Altstaedt, & Kanneh-Mason 
September 21, 2023 
Southam Hall, NAC

“We are thrilled to present FOCUS: Clara, Robert, Johannes as a captivating exploration of the interconnected lives and music of these remarkable composers,” says Alexander Shelley, Music Director of the NAC Orchestra. “Through an array of exceptional concerts and thought-provoking talks, we invite audiences to embark on a musical journey that delves into the profound artistic relationships between Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann, and Johannes Brahms.”


Single tickets and packages are available online at, by telephone at 1-866-850-ARTS and in-person at the NAC Box Office. Patrons save 15% off regular ticket prices with a Choose Your Own package for three or more shows. Under30 tickets for $15 are available to anyone under the age of 30 years old.


FOCUS is an expansive exploration of classical music with artistic direction and concept by Alexander Shelley. The NAC Orchestra dives deep into a singular theme, going beneath the surface of the music and its makers through concerts, talks and more. Each edition of FOCUS presents the opportunity to uncover outstanding composers. The last edition of FOCUS brought to light the musical genius of Beethoven, with the NAC Orchestra performing Beethoven’s nine symphonies over the course of 10 days in fall 2018.


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. 
Since its inception, the NAC Orchestra has recorded for radio and more than 40 commercial recordings many of the 80+ new works it has commissioned, primarily from Canadian composers. These include: 

  • Angela Hewitt’s 2015 JUNO Award-winning album of Mozart Piano Concertos; 
  • The ground-breaking Life Reflected, which includes My Name is Amanda Todd by the late Jocelyn Morlock (winner of the 2018 JUNO for Classical Composition of the Year); 
  • Ana Sokolović’s Golden Slumbers Kiss Your Eyes, 2019 JUNO Winner for Classical Composition of the Year (from the 2019 JUNO-nominated New Worlds); 
  • The 2020 JUNO-nominated The Bounds of Our Dreams, featuring pianist Alain Lefèvre;  
  • Clara - Robert - Johannes: Lyrical Echoes, nominated for Classical Album of the Year at the 2023 JUNO Awards.


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 Ratcliffe, C.M., O.N.L., LLD (hc). Special thanks to the Janice & Earle O’Born Fund for Artistic Excellence.



Greggory Clark  
Communication Strategist
National Arts Centre Orchestra

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