MusicFest Canada: The Nationals

Music Classical music


Ages 12-19

The National Arts Centre collaborates with artists and arts organizations across Canada to help create a national stage for the performing arts, and acts as a catalyst for performance, creation and learning across the country. 

MusicFest Canada annually engages the participation of over 400,000 young musicians, parents and volunteers in 104 affiliated festivals nationwide for an opportunity to perform at the national festival. It is North America’s largest annual event dedicated to developing young musical talent. 

Staged in a major Canadian city each year, MusicFest Canada is the ultimate experience in combining music and education and is a moving force in the cultural life of Canada's youth. These young musicians perform in hundreds of ensembles and attend showcase concerts, clinics, feature cabarets and workshops for an intense, non-stop five days.

The NAC is a proud partner and sponsor of MusicFest Canada.

The Nationals in 2020

For the first time in 48 years, MusicFest Canada was forced to cancel its annual Nationals scheduled for May 18-23 in Calgary (AB) because of COVID-19. Of the 5,500 students whose ensembles earned invitations to attend this year’s national competition, 80 of the finest students were selected through an audition process to form the Denis Wick Canadian Wind Orchestra and the Thomastik-Infeld Canadian String Orchestra.

MusicFest Canada approached the NAC to see if the NAC Orchestra could offer their most talented high school students, conducting fellows, and high school music teachers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be coached by world-class musicians. Alexander Shelley and the NAC Orchestra enthusiastically agreed and close to 200 private and group “Zoom” lessons were arranged. The partnership culminated on May 28, 2020 when virtual performances of the students led by Alexander Shelley were shared as part of the NAC Orchestra’s popular noon-hour lunch break series.

The Nationals in 2021 (May 24-29)

The NAC Orchestra presented a series of virtual private lessons and masterclasses in partnership with MusicFest Canada’s two honour ensembles, the Thomastik-Infeld Canadian String Orchestra and the Denis Wick Canadian Wind Orchestra.

National Arts Centre Awards

MusicFest Canada and its sponsors give out approximately $100,000 in scholarships and awards at the festival, including two NAC Awards at $1,000 each for the best brass/percussion and string musicians.

Learning and engagement at Canada’s National Arts Centre is made possible through the support of many generous individuals and organizations from across the country. The Music Alive Program is made possible thanks to the leadership support of National Partner, The Azrieli Foundation, and Major Supporters, The Slaight Family Foundation and TD Bank Group. Thank you also to Grant and Alice Burton, Canada Life, A Donor-Advised Fund at the Community Foundation of Ottawa, Friends of the NAC Orchestra, Donors to the NAC Foundation's Future Fund, The Janice and Earle O’Born Fund for Artistic Excellence, and the donors and sponsors of the NAC’s National Youth and Education Trust, the primary resource for youth and education funding at the National Arts Centre.