The Golden Era: Pinchas Zukerman’s Gift of Music to Canadians

Pinchas Zukerman

“Pinchas not only expresses his lifetime of experience through his work, but through his commitment to excellence in his teaching, conducting and advocacy. He represents a vision, but most especially a sound of a more beautiful, hospitable world.” – Adrian Anantawan, Canadian violinist and Summer Music Institute alumnus

“Pinchas Zukerman’s gift of music has delighted audiences across Canada and internationally. Canada’s National Arts Centre has benefitted from his leadership on the podium, his extraordinary artistry as a soloist, and from his deep commitment to music education.”  – Peter Herrndorf, President and CEO, National Arts Centre

When Pinchas Zukerman assumed the role of Music Director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in 1999, a heady mixture of surprise and delight swept across Canada. As one of the finest violinists and violists of his generation — of any generation — maestro Zukerman could have chosen any other orchestra in another city anywhere in the world.

He chose the NAC, and a golden era of music was born.

With a vision of how to transform this fine orchestra into an even greater ensemble, Pinchas Zukerman augmented its size in order to expand its repertoire. Musicians and patrons were delighted.

Through his collaborations with elite musicians in the orchestral world, the NAC attracted guest conductors such as Zubin Mehta, Gustavo Dudamel, and Oliver Knussen — and in the upcoming 2014-2015 season, among others, Thomas Søndergård, Michael Francis, Matthias Pintscher and Yannick Nezet-Seguin.

Improvement of the ensemble would continue over the years, and in 2007, after a lengthy search and audition process, Maestro Zukerman appointed a new concertmaster — only the second in the Orchestra’s history.

Yosuke Kawasaki, the brilliant young American violinist, arrived to assume the penultimate leadership position in the Orchestra.


Reshaping an orchestra would have been task enough for most music directors, but Pinchas was able to realize another lifelong dream when he came to the National Arts Centre — educating the next generation of artists. In 1999, he founded the NAC Summer Music Institute (SMI),an initiative that has had a profound impact on the development of young performing artists in Canada and around the world.

Three streams of summer study have been offered at the SMI: the Young Artists Program, Conductors Program and the Composers Program. SMI alumni are now emerging as soloists, and in the ranks of orchestras around the world. Others are taking the podium to conduct their own ensembles; and, for the first time, SMI-trained composers are creating the music orchestras will play for decades to come.

Pinchas championed the development of distance learning initiatives at the NAC. He pioneered broadband masterclasses that allow him to teach students as far away as China from the Hexagon Studio at the NAC, as well as using technology for educational ConneXXions events while on tours.


In 1999, Pinchas Zukerman embarked on the first of many highly successful tours with the NAC Orchestra, bringing “Canada’s orchestra” to communities across the country and around the world.

Playing on the great stages of the world — and in smaller communities without access to live orchestral music — raises the bar for every musician. And a measure of its success under the baton of Pinchas Zukerman is the thunderous applause that greets the NAC Orchestra wherever it plays.

But there’s another reason for touring. During his tenure, Pinchas Zukerman has ensured that every tour includes education. He and the musicians go into schools, conservatories and community halls — from Mexico to Nunavut, British Columbia to China — to teach, coach and mentor young people with an interest in music. To put that in context, on the Western Canada tour alone, there were 14 concerts — and 140 teaching opportunities!

To celebrate the best of Canadian creators, in 2002, Pinchas created the NAC Award for Canadian Composers and, over the next decade, named six recipients including Denys Bouliane, John Estacio, Peter Paul Koprowski, Gary Kulesha, Alexina Louie and Ana Sokolovíc

He has been resolute in including Canadian composition repertoire in his concert programs in Ottawa and on tour.

For the 2013 seven-city tour of China, Pinchas Zukerman invited esteemed Canadian composers John Estacio and Alexina Louie to accompany the orchestra and hear their pieces performed for audiences that had likely never heard of them or their music. The response did not disappoint. For Estacio, hearing his Brio: Toccata and Fantasy for Orchestra in the greatest concert halls in China was a powerful experience for this remarkable Albertan composer.

For Louie, the tour and return to the home of her ancestors was very moving. Her composition, Bringing the Tiger Down From the Mountain II, was written for and performed by the NAC’s principal cellist Amanda Forsyth. And the response, wherever these works were performed, was overwhelming.

In the fall of 2014, Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra UK Tour will mark the centenary of Canadians arriving on English soil to serve in The Great War.

Under the patronage of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, the Orchestra will tour five cities in the UK and, once again, there will be an ambitious education program for the tour.

For the tour, Pinchas Zukerman will include a Canadian composition — A Ballad of Canada — by the late Malcolm Forsyth. One movement of the work uses the inspiring text of the poem In Flanders Fields, penned by Canadian physician and soldier Lt. Col. John McCrae, following the death of a friend in the Second Battle of Ypres, 1915.


As you might imagine, it’s impossible to curate the 2014-2015 season without recognizing its importance for Pinchas Zukerman. This is the season when he and the Orchestra will complete the journey that began in 1999.

Great orchestral music — from an ensemble at the very height of its power — is without comparison. In that respect, let us leave the last word to Pinchas Zukerman, our first Music Director of the 21st century:

“A live concert experience brings you extraordinary energy. It can be a major life experience. That’s why people come, that’s why they want more. With music, you can reach the depths of human experience.”

Written by Scott Thornley

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