Aspiring musicians benefit from Close Encounters with the NAC Orchestra

Alexander Shelley conducts the Ottawa Youth Orchestra and the NAC Orchestra © Photo by Robert S. Vibert

In front of a sold out audience in Southam Hall, Peter Perez lifts his clarinet and begins to play the solo in Gabriel’s Oboe.  It’s an experience the OrKidstra student and Ottawa Youth Orchestra clarinetist will never forget.

“I got to play right at the front of the stage accompanied by two great orchestras.  It felt so amazing to perform for such a large audience on such a wonderful stage at the NAC,” Peter recalls.

Xander Sen, a young dancer from Canterbury High School couldn’t agree more. While Peter played, Xander performed a dance solo.  “Together we created something memorable,” says Xander.  “The performance went perfectly and the roaring applause filled me with joy.”

There was roaring applause that evening last November when the NAC Orchestra and the Ottawa Youth Orchestra joined forces for the first time in history for Close Encounters.  The 140 musicians led by Alexander Shelley performed selections from Beethoven, Borodin, and Kabalevsky. 

“The audience was buzzing with excitement,” says Donnie Deacon, NAC’s Resident Artist in the Community.  “It’s the first time they’ve seen anything like this.”

But even the biggest audience reaction couldn’t compare with the excitement of the youth orchestra members themselves.  Close Encounters was the chance for the 80 young artists to sit side-by-side with and perform with musicians they look up to.  “They were all imitating their mentors, basking in the presence of their heroes,” says John Gomez, Music Director of the Ottawa Youth Orchestra Academy (OYOA).   

It was a night to remember but this close encounter between the two orchestras actually began over a year ago at the OYOA campus.

 “When Alexander Shelley became the Music Director I invited him to visit the academy,” John recalls.  “He saw our classes and was impressed with our students.  Soon after that visit I got a call saying they’d like us to work together.  The students were thrilled.”

John calls the concert “electrifying” and says the benefits to his orchestra will extend well beyond one magical evening.  “This was a collaboration that had a maximum affect.  It gave the students the chance to work with an international conductor.  It deepened their understanding of how important what they’re learning is in the world of professional performance.”  

Both orchestras look forward to performing together again in the future.  “The first thing NAC Orchestra members said to me was they want to do it again and make it bigger,” shares Donnie.  “It was a positive experience for everyone.”

It was certainly a positive experience for Peter and Xander and both are grateful to the generous donors who help fund learning opportunities like this one.  “I’d like to thank the NAC supporters who helped make this evening possible,” says Xander.  I encourage them to keep supporting the arts because when aspiring artists are given the opportunity to perform, it gives them inspiration to keep going and share their talents.”

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