Featuring beloved classics and collaborations with diverse artists from singer-songwriter Shawnee Kish to composer Vivian Fung 

The National Arts Centre Orchestra is ready to welcome live audiences back in the hall after an unprecedented year filled with obstacles, bringing a whole new perspective to live performances. The NAC Orchestra is coming alive in a new light, taking bold steps in programming by bringing more diverse creative voices to the stages for a vibrant experience of music and storytelling. The Orchestra’s 2021-2022 season, which will be announced in phases, promises a rich tapestry of artistically ambitious works woven together with audience favourites from classical to pops and family. There will be in-person audiences for every performance, and the majority of concerts will be livestreamed for audiences at home. From September to June, the Orchestra offers a full season of exciting programs, both in Southam Hall and the Fourth Stage, as well as Kinderconcerts for young audience members in the NAC’s Studio.

“The 2021-2022 season will undoubtedly be different from any of our past seasons,” said Music Director Alexander Shelley. “The idea of coming back together, of sharing space and sound, is now more important than ever. Music is about the communal experience, about coming into a space in the spirit of shared humanity, where we experience the enjoyment of storytelling. That, for me, is something extremely special and valuable. This year, we offer inspiring collaborations with diverse composers and young artists, and we will continue our efforts to share our music with as many Canadians as possible.”

Fall 2021 Highlights

The Orchestra’s season-opening concert on September 10, an emotional program that moves from darkness to light, includes works by Vivian Fung, Gabriel Dharmoo, and Principal Trumpet Karen Donnelly who has composed a moving hymn for solo trumpet which leads us into the beauty and sorrow of Trevor Weston’s “Ashes” for unaccompanied voices. Commissioned in 2002 for the choir of New York’s Trinity Wall Street, “Ashes” evokes the sound and colour of the world in ashes after the fall of the World Trade Center and is a touchstone for remembrance as the world marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11. The evening will culminate with Tchaikovsky’s brilliant Symphony No. 4.

Other fall highlights include Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, and Artist-in-Residence James Ehnes in a lively program of violin showpieces by Saint-Saëns, Sarasate and others on September 18. Celebrated French pianist Hélène Grimaud will make her long-awaited return to Southam Hall on October 7 to perform Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto. Principal Guest Conductor John Storgårds leads a brilliant program with Canadian violinist Leila Josefowicz on October 21. And on November 11, Mohawk and Two-Spirit singer-songwriter Shawnee Kish joins Alexander Shelley and the Orchestra to launch NACO Playlist, a fun new series of concerts curated by guest artists and members of the Orchestra who share their favourite classical music playlists. On October 23, NAC Orchestra musicians will perform in the intimate Fourth Stage for the WolfGANG sessions, the Orchestra’s popular series that features contemporary and indie classical music. This evening of exhilarating music will feature Finnish composer Sebastian Fagerlund’s Autumn Equinox octet, Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdóttir’s Spectra for string trio, and the world premiere of up-and-coming Canadian composer Keiko Devaux’s Bioluminescence for brass septet. Musicians will be back in the Fourth Stage on November 16 with a NACO at the Fourth mixed program featuring the world premiere of Alison Yun-Fei Jiang’s Stray Birds, an evocative new work which is Alison’s first commission as one of the NAC’s two Carrefour composers, along with Keiko Devaux. 

Back by popular demand, from December 15 to 16, the great Bernard Labadie will conduct Handel's Messiah, one of the best and most cherished oratorios. Young music lovers will also find plenty to enjoy with the NAC Orchestra’s family programming, which includes the Family Adventures series, student matinees, in-person Kinderconcerts in association with Jeunesses Musicales Canada and MASC, as well as Virtual Musical Adventures for Young Audiences.

“We’ve put a lot of thought into creating an engaging season for our audiences, all the while preparing for a post-pandemic reality,” said NAC Orchestra Managing Director Arna Einarsdottir.  “I’m so proud of our upcoming season. We’ve had many challenges in the past year, and one of our biggest takeaways is that live music has the undeniable power of bringing immeasurable joy and creating long-lasting memories, and that is the Orchestra’s raison d’être. There’s such magic to live music and I am beyond thrilled to know our audiences will be back in person, in the safest way possible. Our concerts are sure to stir emotion within the concert hall, and spark conversation well beyond the final applause.” 

The NAC Orchestra Introduces New Creative Partners

This year, Music Director Alexander Shelley and the Managing Director, Arna Einarsdottir, are proud to welcome a new group of Creative Partners to the NAC Orchestra’s artistic leadership. It’s a group that represents the breadth and diversity of the Orchestra’s work and includes some of the most interesting artists of our time: pianist, composer, and activist Gabriela Montero; violinist James Ehnes (continuing Artist-in-Residence); composers Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Barbara Croall and Gabriel Dharmoo; accessibility and equity advocate and violinist Adrian Anantawan; conductor Bernard Labadie; and Mohawk Two-Spirit singer-songwriter Shawnee Kish

Over the next few years, these Creative Partners will bring different points of view and new perspectives, putting their artistic excellence at the service of the Orchestra’s members, aspiring musicians, and audiences. They will also participate in important conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion. The NAC Orchestra will benefit from these artists’ knowledge and wide range of experiences and will offer unique performances to all Canadians.


Tickets for NAC performances taking place up until November 30 are on sale as of 10 a.m. on August 19th. Later this fall, the NAC will announce additional programming and ticketing information for Winter 2021-2022.

To purchase tickets to upcoming NAC performances, visit Ticketmaster to purchase tickets online or call 1-888-991-2787 (ARTS). In-person purchases at the NAC Box Office are suspended until further notice. For more information, please visit

As the NAC transitions back towards an in-person performance model, we continue to monitor evolving public health circumstances. The upcoming 2021-2022 season will feature works that can be experienced safely and comfortably, congruent with public health guidelines. The well-being of audiences, artists and staff remains the NAC’s highest priority. Health and safety protocols, including seating capacity in the halls, will reflect ongoing public health guidelines. To prepare for your (re)awaken in-person experience, visit


The National Arts Centre Foundation would like to thank Mark Motors Group, Official Car of the NAC Orchestra, the Janice and Earl O’Born Fund for Artistic Excellence, and Official Rail Partner Via Rail. The NAC Orchestra Music Director role is supported by Elinor Gill Ratcliffe, C.M., O.N.L., LLD (hc). unDisrupted: is made possible thanks to the support of The Janice and Earle O’Born Fund for Artistic Excellence, Dasha Shenkman, OBE, Hon RCM, The Hon. Hilary M. Weston & the late Mr. W. Galen Weston, and donors to the NAC National Creation Fund.


Since its debut in 1969, the National Arts Centre (NAC) Orchestra has been praised for the passion and clarity of its performances, its visionary educational programs, and its prominent role in nurturing Canadian creativity. Under the leadership of Music Director Alexander Shelley, the NAC Orchestra reflects the fabric and values of Canada, reaching and representing the diverse communities we live in with daring programming, powerful storytelling, inspiring artistry, and innovative partnerships.   

The NAC Orchestra has recorded many of the 80+ new works commissioned since its inception, mostly from Canadian composers, for radio and on over 40 commercial recordings. These include Angela Hewitt’s 2015 JUNO Award-winning album of Mozart Piano Concertos; the groundbreaking Life Reflected, which includes My Name is Amanda Todd by Jocelyn Morlock, winner of the 2018 JUNO for Classical Composition of the Year; from the 2019 JUNO-nominated New Worlds, Ana Sokolović’s Golden Slumbers Kiss Your Eyes, 2019 JUNO Winner for Classical Composition of the Year; the 2020 JUNO-nominated The Bounds of Our Dreams featuring pianist Alain Lefèvre, and Clara - Robert - Johannes: Darlings of the Muses, released in 2020.

The NAC Orchestra reaches a national and international audience through its online streaming, touring, recordings, and leads a significant Music Education and Community Engagement department, whose volume of activities parallels that of its performance and artistic creation activities. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the  Orchestra adapted iNACO at the Fourth), audio and video series (NACO Home DeliveryNACO Lunch Breaks, From NACO with Love), and lively online interviews led by Music Director Alexander Shelley (Musically Speaking).


Alexander Shelley became Music Director of the NAC Orchestra in September 2015; he is Principal Associate Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and was Chief Conductor of the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra 2009–2017. Since being awarded first prize at the 2005 Leeds Conducting Competition, Mr. Shelley has been in demand from orchestras around the world, including the Philharmonia, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg, DSO Berlin, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Czech Philharmonic, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Orchestra Svizzera Italiana, Stockholm Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic, Simón Bolívar, Seattle, and Houston Symphony Orchestras. He is a regular guest with the top Asian and Australasian orchestras. This Clara, Robert, Johannes—Darlings of the Muses recording with the NAC Orchestra follows Life ReflectedENCOUNT3RS and the JUNO-nominated New Worlds and The Bounds Of Our Dreams.


The National Arts Centre is Canada’s bilingual, multi-disciplinary home for the performing arts. The NAC presents, creates, produces, and co-produces performing arts programming in various streams—the NAC Orchestra, Dance, English Theatre in association with Black Theatre Workshop, French Theatre, Indigenous Theatre, and Popular Music and Variety—and nurtures the next generation of audiences and artists from across Canada. The NAC is located in the National Capital Region on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation.