The Institute for Orchestral Studies: NAC’s “finishing-school” for young musicians

Theodore Chan, past participant of the Institute for Orchestral Studies © Photo by Keith Levit Photography

It may have been the most important lunch break Theodore Chan has ever taken.

Theodore was in the NAC’s Le Café with his mentor Joel Quarrington, principal double bass with the National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO). At the next table, guest conductor Zubin Mehta was talking to Maestro Pinchas Zukerman about his need for a good bass player for an opera orchestra he was conducting. “Pinchas looked over and said, ‘What about Theo?’ The next thing I knew Zubin was inviting me to his dressing room to play for him,” recalls Theodore.

Impressed with his performance, Maestro Mehta invited Theodore to perform in Wagner’s Ring Cycle in Valencia, Spain, an incredible opportunity that would not have happened if Theo hadn’t participated in the Institute for Orchestral Studies (IOS).

Since the apprenticeship-based program began in 2006, dozens of talented musicians have had the chance to sit side-by-side with a mentor within the NAC Orchestra to rehearse and perform, and even accompany the orchestra on its tours. “The IOS something is like a finishing-school for music students pursuing orchestral careers” explains Douglas Payson Sturdevant, Manager of Artist Training and Outreach at the NAC. “It’s an opportunity to learn important repertoire, with a world class orchestra and great conductors.”

Theodore agrees. “In Canada, there is not a whole lot of pre-professional training,” he says. “With the IOS, young musicians get to experience the day-to-day rigours of preparing for concerts and performing in an orchestra. I see the program as a bridge between the end of a musician’s student career and the beginning of their professional one.”

In Theodore’s case, the IOS was excellent training ground for what has already become an impressive career. “It’s always been a dream of mine to play in a major orchestra and I’ve had the good fortune to have won two auditions now.” Theodore joined the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in September after spending two years with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

“After playing with the NAC Orchestra, the apprentices realize what an outstanding ensemble it is, and how important the Institute has been for them,” says Douglas. He wholeheartedly believes the IOS is a demonstration of the Orchestra’s commitment to maintaining the high standards and sustainability of its art form.

As for Theodore, he’s deeply grateful for the experience supporters like you help make possible. “Thank you for contributing to such a special program,” he says. “The biggest thing you can do for young musicians is to give them real life experience which in my case has opened up extraordinary career pathways.”

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