NAC extends Shelley’s tenure until 2023

Alexander Shelley and NACO are heading on the road. Photo: Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography

Alexander Shelley will lead the National Arts Centre Orchestra at least until Aug. 31, 2023. NAC CEO Christopher Deacon announced the new contract at a media event on Tuesday afternoon.

Deacon praised his leadership and his ability to work with the orchestra and for “being an incredible champion for music across Canada.

Deacon isn’t the only one heaping praise on Shelley, NACO’s principal bassoonist, Christopher Millard was equally pleased that Shelley will be sticking around.

“He’s elegant, he’s kind, he’s thoughtful, he is beautifully prepared and he communicates to the audience and the orchestra, so it’s a happy time for us.”

After being heaped with such praise, Shelley was equally effusive. “I have to say in this industry a conductor is only as good as the people they are working with. It’s a genuine privilege to stand in front of the orchestra as music director.

“I wake up every morning and come to work with joy in my heart. I have ambition for the music we perform and I have an idea of how we can realize the intent of the composer. But I also learn from the musicians about new ideas every time.”

Shelley joined the NAC three years ago, replacing Pinchas Zukerman, who is currently the orchestra’s conductor emeritus and the artistic director of the Young Artists’ Program. Under Shelley’s leadership NACO has commissioned 13 new works and has toured the country from coast to coast to coast during Canada 150.

His commitment to Canada was further strengthened recently by the birth of Sasha Felix Shelley in Ottawa on Aug. 25.  The younger Shelley was happily sleeping in a baby seat during the media conference when his father said “I think the fact that our son is Canadian speaks to the importance of this country to us.”

In the coming year, Shelley will lead the orchestra on a major tour of Europe as the centre gets ready to celebrate its 50th birthday.

Among the highlights of his first three years in Ottawa are the recording and release of four albums of new works with the Montreal label Analekta.  The recordings are  of the quartet of pieces called Life Reflected, a trio of new works for ballet called Encount3rs, New Worlds and The Bounds of our Dreams which will be released this month.

To mark the announcement of the new contract for Shelley, the NAC announced a $1 million donation by NAC Foundation donor Elinor Gill Ratcliffe – originally from St. John’s, Newfoundland, now living in Kingston, Ontario in support of Shelley’s efforts.

Shelley also maintains a busy international career. He is principal associate conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and a frequent guest conductor with orchestras such as the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Leipzig Gewandhaus and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.