Alexander Shelley to lead the National Arts Centre Orchestra

ALexander Shelley, incoming conductor for the National Arts Centre Orchestra. Photo provided courtesy NAC Orchestra

Alexander Shelley, incoming conductor for the National Arts Centre Orchestra. Photo provided courtesy NAC Orchestra

What are the prospects for live orchestras? You know, a full stage of classically-trained musicians, filling stately halls with robust, dynamic music.

As more and more symphonic orchestras wobble or die one has to wonder how many will survive.

Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa may be better insulated than most. It’s a national flagship cultural institution, so it ought to be among the last ones standing. Still, most orchestras are probably wrestling with bedrock questions of audience and relevance.

The NACO’s current conductor needs no introduction to classical music listeners. Pinchas Zukerman is an acclaimed conductor and a world-famous solo violinist. Zukerman announced his planned departure back in 2012, though he would stay up to the 2015 season. By then he’ll have lead the NACO for 16 years.

This past week the NAC announced Zukerman’s replacement will be 34-year-old Alexander Shelley. Shelley is an English conductor and musician (cello) who currently heads the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra. Shelley will take over at the NACO as of September 2015. He’ll be the NACO’s seventh (and youngest) music director.

You can read more about Shelley’s selection and his views on the job in this extensive article by Peter Robb for the Ottawa Citizen. Here’s a small sample of Shelley in his own words:

“One of my first wishes is to get out there and engage with people. I would say in my professional persona, one of the things that I thrive on is a sense of collaboration and not just with other musicians, but with audiences.

“I find the experience of being in a concert hall is about sharing. It’s not for no reason that there is a similarity in the scale between concert halls and churches. People go there not just to hear the music but to have a shared experience. You can read liturgy at home, people do, people pray at home. But it’s very important for it to be shared.”

Now, the example of reading liturgy doesn’t sound very trendy. But Shelley is partially known for being innovative in ways that may appeal to a younger demographic. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with an older audience. But long-term survival is at stake if older audiences cannot replace themselves.

As reported by the CBC:

Shelley was selected following a Canadian and international search.

“Alexander is the ideal choice to lead our orchestra. He will bring a fresh perspective to our core repertoire and a broad vision for our future,” said principal bassoon player Christopher Millard, a member of the search committee. “We are all looking forward to an energetic and imaginative collaboration.”

This blog’s main geographic spread may not include many NACO concert goers. But I invite those with that experience to add their own comments about Maestro Zukerman, the orchestra, or this selection – good or bad.

Meanwhile, to everyone else, if you are a classical buff, are you worried about the health of that genre of music?

If you are not really “into” classical music, is there anything that would bring you into that scene?

I suspect not, but I am curious if it’s even possible.

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3 Comments on “Alexander Shelley to lead the National Arts Centre Orchestra”

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  1. Jim Bullard says:

    Probably my greatest disappointment with public radio is that it has all but abandoned classical music. I understand that you have to go where the audience is but I often wish that NCPR could have a second channel of 24/7 classical music even if it had to be automated. There are times when I’d like a respite from hearing all the problems and dispute, a sound space of truly inspired music. I can’t even depend on Radio Canada to provide that any more.

  2. Hank says:


    I obviously don’t know where you live, but you should be aware (maybe you are) that Vermont Public Radio has an all-classical music service. There aren’t as many transmitters for their classical network as for their regular news and information network but they also live-stream over the internet. And, of course, many other states have a statewide NPR classical service, too (available on the Internet).

    I wouldn’t want you be a listener who no longer listens to NCPR, but perhaps for part of the day VPR Classical could be an option.

  3. Jonathan Brown says:

    Alexander Shelley has some big shoes to fill.

    Pinchas Zukerman is a brilliant and gifted musician. He’s also a natural showman.

    I’ve attended lots of NACO classical music performances and the hall (which is huge) often seemed mostly full. During one concert I saw him turn his back to the orchestra and start conducting the audience. We were eager but not-too-noisy participants, but as soon as Pinchas wanted us to quiet down, a single gesture from him silenced the crowd as the musicians played on.

    That kind of easy rapport and stage-to-seats porousness is damn hard to pull off.

    I wish Shelley all the success in the world. And I encourage everyone to make the trip to the NAC and watch the orchestra perform. Yes, my wife plays occasionally with the orchestra and this makes me biased. But even if I had no connection to NACO, sitting there and taking in a classical concert would still be a tremendously beautiful and moving experience. Fun, too.

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