Headshot of Alexander Shelley © Curtis Perry
Music Director, NAC Orchestra

Alexander Shelley

Last updated: March 16, 2023

Alexander Shelley succeeded Pinchas Zukerman as Music Director of Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra in September 2015.  The ensemble has since been praised as “an orchestra transformed … hungry, bold, and unleashed” (Ottawa Citizen) and Alexander’s programming credited for turning the orchestra “almost overnight … into one of the more audacious orchestras in North America.” (Maclean’s magazine).

Born in London in October 1979, Alexander, the son of celebrated concert pianists, studied cello and conducting in Germany and first gained widespread attention when he was unanimously awarded first prize at the 2005 Leeds Conductors' Competition, with the press describing him 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”. In August 2017 Alexander concluded his tenure as Chief Conductor of the Nürnberger Symphoniker, a position he held since September 2009. The partnership was hailed by press and audience alike as a golden era for the orchestra, where he transformed the ensemble’s playing, education work and international touring activities. These have included concerts in Italy, Belgium, China and a re-invitation to the Musikverein in Vienna.

In January 2015 he assumed the role of Principal Associate Conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with whom he curates an annual series of concerts at Cadogan Hall and tours both nationally and internationally.

Described as “a natural communicator both on and off the podium” (Daily Telegraph) Alexander works regularly with the leading orchestras of Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australasia, including the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin,, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Gothenburg Symphony, Stockholm Philharmonic, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Sao Paulo Symphony and the Melbourne and New Zealand Symphony Orchestras. This season’s collaborations include debuts with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de Belgique, Orchestre Metropolitain Montreal, Orquesta Sinfonica de Valencia, and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; alongside returns to MDR Sinfonieorchester Leipzig, Orchestre Philharmonique de Luxembourg and the Tasmanian symphony orchestras. He will also embark on an extensive tour of Europe with the National Arts Centre Orchestra performing in cities such as London, Paris, Stockholm and Copenhagen

Highlights of the previous season include debuts with the Helsinki and Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestras and Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, as well as at the Aspen Festival in Colorado.  Re-invitations include Konzerthausorchester Berlin, RTE National Symphony Orchestra and a return to the Tivoli Festival with the Copenhagen Philharmonic.        

Alexander’s operatic engagements have included The Merry Widow and Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet (Den Kongelige Opera); La Bohème (Opera Lyra/National Arts Centre), Iolanta (Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen), Così fan Tutte (Opéra National de Montpellier), The Marriage of Figaro (Opera North) in 2015 and he led a co-production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel in 2017 with the NACO and Canadian Opera Company.

Alexander was awarded the ECHO prize in 2016 for his second Deutsche Grammophon recording, “Peter and the Wolf”, and both the ECHO and Deutsche Grunderpreis in his capacity as Artistic Director of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen’s “Zukunftslabor”, a visionary project of grass-roots engagement, which uses music as a source for social cohesion and integration. Through his work as Founder and Artistic Director of the Schumann Camerata and their ground-breaking “440Hz” series in Dusseldorf, and through his leadership roles in Nuremberg, Bremen and Ottawa, inspiring future generations of classical musicians and listeners has always been central to Alexander’s work. He has led the German National Youth Orchestra on several tours of Germany and works with many thousands of young people a year in outreach projects. He regularly gives informed and passionate pre- and post-concert talks on his programmes, as well as numerous interviews and podcasts on the role of classical music in society. He has a wealth of experience conducting and presenting major open-air events - in Nuremberg alone he has, over the course of nine years, hosted more than half a million people at the annual Klassik Open Air concerts - Europe’s largest classical music event.

The Music Director role is supported by Elinor Gill Ratcliffe, C.M., O.N.L., LL.D. (hc)

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