The National Arts Centre mourns the loss of Maestro Mario Bernardi

The National Arts Centre (NAC) mourns the loss of Maestro Mario Bernardi, the founding conductor of the NAC Orchestra. Maestro Bernardi passed away peacefully in Toronto on Sunday morning.

The NAC lowered its flag in Ottawa to half-mast to pay tribute to the man who moved to the nation’s capital in 1968, to literally build the 45-member NAC Orchestra from the ground up.

“Mario Bernardi was a national figure who played a seminal role in the life of classical music in Canada,” said Peter Herrndorf, President and CEO of the National Arts Centre. “In 1968, when he first joined the NAC, Mario Bernardi immediately began to recruit young, exceptionally talented musicians. He shaped them into a wonderful orchestra, drawing from them a unique sound which was praised by music critics for its transparency and precision of ensemble.”

“Mario was a visionary who led the orchestra on tours of European capitals, to Carnegie Hall, and to cities across Canada. He brought a unique combination of imagination and discipline that enabled him to not only build an orchestra, but also a renowned international summer opera festival,” said Christopher Deacon, Managing Director of the NAC Orchestra.

Earlier this year, the NAC commissioned a bust of Maestro Bernardi which will be unveiled at noon on July 1, 2013. The bust will be mounted at the entrance of Southam Hall, where Maestro Bernardi led the Orchestra in hundreds of concerts during his tenure. The bust will face a portrait of Hamilton Southam, the founding Director General of the NAC. Mr. Southam passed away on Canada Day in 2008.
The bust was created by Canadian sculptor Ruth Abernethy, who is well-known for her life-sized portraits of Oscar Peterson outside of the NAC, and the Glenn Gould sculpture outside of the CBC Building in Toronto. The NAC will also create a fund in Maestro Bernardi’s name to commission new Canadian compositions for the orchestra.

A conductor, and accomplished pianist, Mario Bernardi was born in Kirkland Lake, Ontario in 1930. He moved to Italy when he was six years old with his mother, living in the small city of Treviso, near Venice, where they remained throughout the war. He studied at the Venice Conservatory and excelled in the keyboard instruments of piano and harpsichord. A man of many musical talents, he was considered among the best of Canada’s promising young musicians emerging in the postwar period—a group that included Glenn Gould.

He began his professional career with the Royal Conservatory Opera School in Toronto. He first began to conduct in his mid-twenties at the Canadian Opera Company. In 1963, he moved to London, England where he was recruited by the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company (now the English National Opera). He served as Music Director of Sadler’s Wells before being enticed back to Canada to become the founding conductor of the National Arts Centre Orchestra of Canada from 1968-1982.

Career Highlights:

• Mario honed his craft conducting opera at the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company in the UK in the 1960’s and brought that European expertise back to Canada in 1968
• He personally auditioned all the musicians to join the NAC Orchestra – including Canadians studying at many of the top schools in North America
• He created the summer opera festival at the NAC – for years called Festival Canada – and produced opera at a very high international level (not then known in Canada)
• Throughout his career, he conducted opera at the Canadian Opera Company as well as at other major companies
• After he left the NAC, he led the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra from 1984 until 1992, and was the Principal Conductor of the CBC Radio Orchestra from 1983 until 2006
• Over the course of his career, he commissioned and premiered dozens of works by Canadian composers
• He was the recipient of many honours including the Order of Canada (1972), the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement (2001), a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (2006), and honorary degrees from the University of British Columbia, University of Calgary, University of Windsor, University of Ottawa, Carleton University, Lakehead University, and Laurentian University

Canada’s National Arts Centre extends its condolences to Mario Bernardi’s wife, Mona Kelly, and the entire family. 

Funeral arrangements are as follows:

St. Anselm’s Catholic Parish
1 MacNaughton Road (near Millwood Road)
Toronto, ON
Friday, June 7, 2013
3:00 p.m.

Reception to follow at:

Humphrey Funeral Home
1403 Bayview Ave.
Toronto, ON