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THE SCOOP | The National Arts Centre Orchestra Extends Contract For Maestro Alexander Shelley

By Anya Wassenberg on September 8, 2022

Alexander Shelley (Photo courtesy of NAC Orchestra)
Alexander Shelley (Photo courtesy of NAC Orchestra)

The National Arts Centre (NAC) announced a three-year contract extension for Alexander Shelley as Music Director of the NAC Orchestra. The new term extends from September 1, 2023, to August 31, 2026.

Shelley took on the role in 2015, and led the orchestra during a transformational time that began well before the COVID pandemic played havoc with the performing arts industry. Under his leadership, the NAC Orchestra has taken on its role as a national orchestra, and become more and more noted for new collaborations and ideas.

“I continue to be energized by the individual and collective brilliance of our musicians and inspired by the vision at the heart of Canada’s National Arts Centre,” said Alexander Shelley in a release.

“Over the last few tumultuous years, we have engaged in tackling the big issues of our time, pioneered new formats for symphonic music on stage and screen, vigorously championed Canadian creative artists, composers of our time and historically underrepresented voices, toured through Europe and to Carnegie Hall, grown our recording catalogue and inaugurated a flagship mentorship program.”

What they’re saying…

“Alexander Shelley provides exceptional artistic leadership to Canada’s NAC Orchestra,” said Christopher Deacon, NAC President and CEO. “Season after season, the Orchestra has continued to develop in terms of repertoire, collaborators, and level of excellence. I’m delighted that he has renewed his contract.”

“Since his arrival, Alexander has helped to cement the Orchestra’s reputation as a world-class ensemble. As well, he constantly inspires and pushes us all to rethink and redefine the orchestra’s role in society,” said Nelson McDougall, Managing Director of the NAC Orchestra. “Through his vision and passion, the NAC Orchestra is increasingly acclaimed for its daring programming and powerful storytelling, as exemplified by the recent tour to Carnegie Hall, entitled Truth in Our Time, which featured the premiere of an NAC Orchestra commission from Philip Glass, his Symphony No. 13. We are so fortunate to call him our Music Director and I look forward to our continuing partnership.”

“It is always a pleasure to make music on stage with Alexander when he is conducting,” said Yosuke Kawasaki, NAC Orchestra Concertmaster. “I’m equally impressed by his collaborative leadership in his role as Music Director. Since his arrival, he has championed not only this Orchestra, but also Canadian creation and artists. His dedication and commitment to nurture our next generation of artists and audiences is truly inspiring.”

About Alexander

Shelley’s tenure, in particular, has been noted for his innovative programming. It comes after a series of accomplished roles and accomplishments.

  • First prize at the 2005 Leeds Conductors’ Competition;
  • Chief Conductor of the Nürnberger Symphoniker from 2009 until 2017;
  • In 2015, he became Principal Associate Conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Along with the NAC Orchestra, Shelley works with Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Gothenburg Symphony, Stockholm Philharmonic, Hong Kong Philharmonic, São Paulo Symphony and the Melbourne and New Zealand Symphony Orchestras.

Alexander Shelley and the NAC Orchestra

In the spring of 2022, Shelley led the NAC Orchestra on a tour to premiere Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 13, an NAC Orchestra commission in tribute to the late Canadian American journalist Peter Jennings. The orchestra performed in Toronto at Roy Thomson Hall after its Ottawa premiere, and in New York’s Carnegie Hall, the first time the NAC Orchestra has done so in three decades.

Here’s a quick look at some of the other milestones in his tenure so far.

  • Shelley and the NAC Orchestra have recorded several JUNO nominated and sometimes winning albums.
  • He continued to lead the orchestra in its first ever livestream series during the pandemic.
  • He has led the orchestra on several tours, including a cross-country tour in 2017, and the 50th Anniversary European Tour in 2019.
  • Shelley has notably included diverse voices and music into the programming mix, including a showcase of Indigenous composers in 2019, among others.
  • Each year has been marked by new ideas led by Shelley, including UNDISRUPTED during the 2020/21 season. The innovative television series featured four Canadian women, each of them curating a 30-minute episode with the NAC Orchestra.
  • In 2021/22, the Canadian premiere of a tuba concerto co-commisioned by the NAC Orchestra and composed by Wynton Marsalis featuring NACO principal tuba Chris Lee.
  • Mentorship of young and also diverse Canadian artists, including leading the recent launch of the NAC Orchestra Mentorship Program.

Shelley says he plans to continue on a similar path into the future.

“Our plans for the coming seasons are no less ambitious. It remains a privilege and a joy to lead this wonderful orchestra and to serve our vibrant audiences both here in Canada’s capital, across the country and around the world.”


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