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Q&A | 6 Questions for Alexander Shelley

By Lev Bratishenko on February 23, 2015

Alexander Shelley, conductor
Alexander Shelley, conductor

Every so often, MT poses 60 questions to a local or visiting artist in Toronto who has made our classical music community that much more interesting. They pick and choose. The minimum response is 20 answers. A kind of Rorschach personality test, if you will.

Alexander Shelley was appointed Music Director-designate of Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra in October 2013 and begins his new role of Music Director in September 2015. The same year also marks his seventh year as Chief Conductor of the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra where he has played a pivotal role leading the orchestra’s education work and touring activities. On January 20, 2015 Shelley was named Principal Associate Conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.


If I had a hangover this morning, hypothetically, what would you recommend?

Oh! I suppose that depends what it’s from–whether it’s from hard liquor or wine or beer. Good question, though. And it depends on where you want to go with your day. Maybe some Bach? Or some purring minimalism? Something without many peaks or troughs, unless you want to feel those and then I’d say maybe Wagner–Tristan? Death and Transfiguration? The question is where do you want your hangover to take you?

How much do you like Mendelssohn?

I love Mendelssohn but I have to add the disclaimer that there’s no composer who I’ve really studied that I didn’t come to love. But Mendelssohn is part of my core, my spine, the Austro-German tradition from Bach to Mahler, and he’s part of that evolution. Also he was a prodigy who retained his energy–not that he got to be very old–but he was still in command of the freedom of youth, and he was still able to turn a pure phrase.

What do you like to do in Ottawa?

Well, I like to make music there. But it surprised me, and perhaps it shouldn’t have, but the number of different and fantastic restaurants there are. Also I love walking up the river and looking across at Parliament. Coming from London, where I live, Ottawa feels like there’s a constant contact with nature. So, fresh air, music, and friends.

What are you reading right now?

Gödel, Escher, Bach by Hofstadter. I get so into books that I will reread whole chapters to make sure that I understood them, and this is a brick of a book. But I’m not giving up. It comes after a Bertrand Russell binge of the last few years, starting with his History of Western Philosophy. I tend to move between books at the same time. I’m a book polygamist.

What’s the last exhibit you saw?

The last exhibition I visited was a tiny presentation of beautiful behind the scenes photographs from a recent production of La Traviata in Leeds at Opera North where I have been performing Figaro… and I’m planning on seeing the Rubens show in London in the next couple of weeks.

And who’s the living musical figure that you most admire?

I heard the Berlin Philharmonic here four or five days ago with Simon Rattle conducting. I’ve respected him massively for years, of course, as a musician, and recently I’ve been reading all the articles that have been coming out about the LSO and how London needs a better hall. Rattle met with the City and the mayor, Boris Johnson, and he’s persuaded them all. I think that’s very important to be inspirational and definitional musically, but also to fulfil a political role.

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