Just in: Ottawa replaces Pinky with a Brit

Just in: Ottawa replaces Pinky with a Brit


norman lebrecht

October 31, 2013

Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra, which has been going nowhere with Pinchas Zukerman for the past decade, has announced as his successor ‘one of the leading conductors of the new generation’. Details below.



Canada’s National Arts Centre announces Alexander Shelley

as its Music Director-designate


Renowned conductor to lead NAC Orchestra in 2015-2016


Canada’s National Arts Centre (NAC) announced today that Alexander Shelley has been appointed Music Director-designate for the National Arts Centre Orchestra. He will assume the role of Music Director as of September 1, 2015.

“Alexander Shelley is one of the leading figures in the new generation of international conductors,” said Peter Herrndorf, President and CEO of the National Arts Centre. “He is an exceptionally gifted musician, with a wide range of experience and a strong emphasis on the creation of new work and community engagement. He represents the dynamic new leadership we were seeking to succeed Maestro Pinchas Zukerman in 2015-2016.”

Over the past decade, Alexander Shelley has established himself as one of the most talented conductors in Europe. He has led the NAC Orchestra in performance five times in the last four years winning enthusiastic response from both musicians and audiences. Born in the United Kingdom, Shelley was unanimously awarded first prize in the 2005 Leeds Conductors Competition and was described in the press as “the most exciting and gifted young conductor to have taken this highly prestigious award. His conducting technique is immaculate, everything crystal clear and a tool to his inborn musicality.”

Now in his fifth season as Chief Conductor of the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra, his tenure is acknowledged by both the media and audiences as an outstanding success.  He also enjoys a close relationship with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen performing with them regularly both in Germany and abroad and is artistic director of their Zukunftslabor project –an award-winning series which is designed to build a lasting relationship between the orchestra and younger concert-goers through grassroots engagement and through its use of music as a source for social cohesion and integration.

Shelley has guest conducted regularly in Europe’s major musical centres and recent press has singled him out as “a musician of considerable gifts and extraordinarily impressive interpretative qualities” (Strauss, Elgar and Sibelius in London), a conductor with “exceptional artistic authority” (Brahms with DSO Berlin, June) and described his Verdi Requiem in Salzburg in February as an “original, intelligent, thoroughly convincing and well crafted interpretation”.

The son of professional musicians, Shelley studied cello in London and Dusseldorf.  In 2001 he founded the Schumann Camerata in Germany with which he subsequently created “440Hz”, an innovative series of concerts involving prominent German television, stage and musical personalities, and conceived by him as a major initiative to attract young adults to the concert hall.

Maestro Shelley said: “My collaboration with the exceptional musicians of the NAC Orchestra has, from the first moment, been both tremendously exciting and fulfilling. I could not be more delighted to be assuming the Music Directorship of this dynamic institution with which I share so many ambitions: to engage with audiences and communities around the whole of this beautiful country, to promote and support the creation of new Canadian work and, with the help of the extraordinary musical talent in this country, to further cement the highest of artistic standards.”

Maestro Shelley was selected following an extensive and exhaustive Canadian and international search. A search committee, co-chaired by NAC Board of Trustees Chair Julia Foster and NAC Orchestra Principal Bassoon Christopher Millard, was struck in July 2012 to conduct the search. Its members consisted of NAC President and CEO Peter Herrndorf, NAC Orchestra Managing Director Christopher Deacon, former NAC Trustee Larry Fitchner of Calgary, NAC Orchestra Manager of Artistic Planning Daphne Burt, NAC Orchestra Concertmaster Yosuke Kawasaki, Associate Concertmaster Jessica Linnebach, and outside members, Ottawa journalist Paul Wells and Dr. Jean-Jacques Van Vlasselaer.

“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,” enthused Christopher Millard. “We are all looking forward to an energetic and imaginative collaboration.”

NAC Orchestra Managing Director Christopher Deacon led the team that undertook the search. “Alexander Shelley has a proven track record of engaging in the creation of new work and collaborating with youth, notably at the Future Lab in Bremen. His concert this week at the NAC is another perfect example, combining a major new work in an innovative concert format.”


  • Martin says:

    How many leading artists and how many generations are there!?!

    I quote pianist Pierre-A. Dablemont: “Reading pianists’ bios. And realizing there are a lot of leading artists of their generation. And so many rising stars.” Source: https://twitter.com/padablemont/statuses/390558834059902977

    • It’s the same for singers. If you read agent websites, practically every vocalist is ‘one of the most dynamic *insert voice type here* of their generation’. No room for slouches in this business; everyone’s the best, y’know…

      • MWnyc says:

        Well, we can hardly expect them to describe their artists as “middling”.

        (Not if they don’t want to get fired, anyway.)

        And even terms like “solid” and “professional” would get tagged as damning with faint praise.

  • Mikey says:

    I wonder if Mr. Shelley will also display as profound a distaste for Canadian music as Mr. Zukerman did?

  • dansk66 says:

    Going nowhere? They have just come back from a tour in China.

    More on Alexander Shelley ,



  • Pacer1 says:

    Thanks dansk66.

    Enjoy reading about the comprehensive China tour the NAC Orchestra just came back from, and their extensive educational work and outreach.


    • Andy says:

      According to Maclean’s magazine, audiences in China were laughingly indifferent to the concerts, which seems appropriate given Zukerman’s own approach to music. As for education and outreach, are we really expected to believe Zukerman should be thanked for having dreamed it all up? C’mon, Pace, you of all people should know the facade built around Zukerman by the centre. He’s bored and indifferent with the job and the music, but the spin portrays a heroic and brilliant (ha!) saviour. Baloney.

      Ultimately, it’s impossible to enjoy reading how Canadian tax dollars are lavished on this merely adequate orchestra, at the expense of countless other orchestras across the country, all struggling to serve their communities. The inequity is as appalling as the centre’s own self-serving hype. Best, perhaps, not to brag when the money that paid for the “accomplishments” robbed so many others and so much good work in Canada. It’s actually shameful to read.

  • Niall Hoskin says:

    Alexander Shelley conducted the Brandon Hill Chamber Orchestra here in Bristol more than once, when he was ‘on the way up’; and was well-received by audiences and the players. He’s a very good musician, This is good news for him, and for the NAC orchestra

  • Norman, correct spelling should be Zukerman in the original post.

    I enjoy your blog, and find much that is of interest reported here. But the easy cheap shots do not do you credit. Pinchas Zukerman brought a lot to Ottawa; especially an international profile, a sparkling presence and perhaps more significantly, excellent fundraising skills in a town and market that REALLY needs them. I had the pleasure of singing the Verdi Requiem with him, and was very much struck – much to my surprise and pleasure – at the skill and insight he brought to the piece. I wish him well in his future endeavors, and am sure that Shelley will do well in Ottawa.

    • Andy says:

      Wow! He plumbed the depths of Verdi’s Requiem? Did you get to shake his hand when it was all done? I’m all tingly.

  • Andy says:

    I wonder what the orchestra will do when an actual conductor mounts the podium. I wonder what the Ottawa public will do when the relentless repetition of standard repertoire suddenly ends. I wonder how the orchestra will cope playing music that’s NOT by Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven and Mendelssohn. At least Mr. Shelley needn’t worry about Olympian standards having been set, at least musically if not egomaniacally. And once again Canada’s “national” (ha ha ha!) centre will funnel taxpayer dollars to a foreigner, presumably because no Canadians are good enough to feed the astonishing sense of self-importance of the orchestra’s players. The centre is as useless and as costly as the Canadian senate. Zukerman’s departure is good riddance.

    • dansk66 says:

      Andy, I pity you for your lack of musical taste and lack of respect for great artist who has given so much to music in the nation’s capital. Here were are blessed to have a 34 year old conductor with many years of top class experience coming to Ottawa. If there was a Canadian candidate with similar qualifications, then I’m he or she would have got the job. Did you have a Canadian in mind? Or are there too many to name.

      • Andy says:

        Zukerman has given NOTHING. He has been paid, well paid, paid more in a single year by the taxpayers of Canada than the Prime Minister is paid in three years. And for what? To conduct Haydn and teach kids how to hold their bows?

        If Zukerman’s drab conducting of the 25 or so pieces in his repertoire over and over and over again is your weak, tepid cup of tea, well hip hip hooray for you.

        As for a qualified Canadian conductor, let’s see: there’s an entire Gilbert & Sullivan patter song of names I could mention – Nezet-Seguin, Lacombe, Zeitouni, Labadie, Parisotto, Trudel, Olivieri-Munroe, Wilson, Miller, Abel, Kuerti, Ryan, Brott, Hauser, Moull, Mayer, Oundjian, and lots of others on the horizon.

        Here’s the rub, Dan. If you’re going to use the word “national” to describe yourself, and to justify draining federal funding away from every other artist and arts group across the country, your philosophy should damn well be “national” in return. Hire only Canadians, play more Canadian music than any other orchestra or ensemble, and EARN the “national” badge. That’s not been the case with this lacklustre little band since 1982 when Mario Bernardi left. Now THERE was a real mensch. Zukerman? Meh.

    • MWnyc says:

      I think Yannick was unavailable. Same for Peter Oundjian (if he counts as Canadian in your book).

    • This comment would carry far more weight if the writer had the courage to sign his name to it. “Flaming” is cheap, and easy.

      • Andy says:

        John, I’m Andy Ferrier, taxpayer and patron of the arts, Ottawa, Ontario.

        I missed your last Tristan at the Met. Be sure to let us all know when you’ll next be performing the role there. I’ll be sure to fly down to hear you. Hopefully you’ll meet the standard you set in 2008.

  • Ouch, Norman ! That’s really harsh of you re: Mr. Z. He is a very ‘giving’ and generous soul and spirit. Can you claim to be anywhere near as benificent ?

    • Andy says:

      Zukerman’s taxpayer-funded salary is obscene, and paid on the backs of countless artists across Canada. We’re the ones who have been generous, Ian, not Zukerman. He’s been laughing all the way to the bank for 15 years, having duped all of us out of millions of our tax dollars. The centre committed a crime against Canada when it imported Zukerman into our midst.

  • Mikey says:



  • V.Lind says:

    As a conductor, Zukerman is a great violinist (and violist). He has been a controversial conductor in Ottawa, partly musically, partly temperamentally — he has his fans, but many will be glad to see him depart the podium. But he will leave a pretty decent legacy in education and outreach. The Summer Music Institute has achieved a fair amount in bringing young artists, composers and conductors to the stages of the world, and few orchestras work harder while on tour in reaching out to those who would otherwise have no access whatsoever to classical music. Zukerman has also been a vigorous proponent of technology, which lets him hold master classes remotely — and therefore widely.

    Whatever his attitude to Canadian music — and I suspect it has mellowed — the National Arts Centre has commissioned a fair amount, and played more. Alexander Shelley has already expressed a commitment to continuing and increasing this aspect of orchestral life.

    It will be a welcome new era — time for a fresh face on the rostrum, and new ideas and style.

  • Steven Honigberg says:

    I have heard nothing but wonderful comments by musicians who worked for Pinchas Zukerman in Canada. With experience in tow, It’s time he gets offered a more prestigious position in America.

    • Andy says:

      American orchestras don’t have a federal cash pipeline gushing into their coffers to pay Zukerman’s fee. Only in Canada.

      • dansk66 says:

        The ticket buyers, such as myself, do help to pay that salary (or as you like to say, fee) just as the ticket buyers in Philadelphia help to pay for their Canadian conductor. How much have you contributed towards Pinchas Zukerman’s Salary? All the taxpayers of Canada are, very indirectly, paying for both the current Music Director and his English successor.

  • V.Lind says:

    You haven’t been paying much attention, then. Whatever else, Zukerman has been a divisive figure. Less so now than a few years ago, perhaps, but he still has his critics within the orchestra.

    I doubt he will get the offer of any “prestigious position” in America. And I doubt he would accept anything less. Doesn’t have to.