National Arts Centre Orchestra/Orchestre du Centre national des arts | The Canadian Encyclopedia


National Arts Centre Orchestra/Orchestre du Centre national des arts

National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO)/Orchestre du Centre national des arts. The only orchestra in North America to be virtually state-supported. It was formed in 1969 and is resident at the National Arts Centre (NAC), Ottawa.

National Arts Centre Orchestra/Orchestre du Centre national des arts

National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO)/Orchestre du Centre national des arts. The only orchestra in North America to be virtually state-supported. It was formed in 1969 and is resident at the National Arts Centre (NAC), Ottawa.

Mario Bernardi, its first conductor, and Jean-Marie Beaudet, then music director of the NAC, selected the players after auditioning candidates, especially Canadians, several of whom were pursuing careers abroad. A classical orchestra (44 players, later 46) was deemed practical for the capital city, since visiting Canadian and foreign orchestras could be counted upon to provide programs requiring larger forces.

The NACO made its debut 7 Oct 1969 under Bernardi. The orchestra was pivotal in the success of the National Arts Centre's first decade of operation.

Programs and Concert Series

The NACO's repertoire comprises the baroque and the classical, 19th-century music, and contemporary music including more than 50 works commissioned from Canadian composers. The first of these was Murray Adaskin'sDiversion for Orchestra, premiered at the inaugural concert. (See list.)

The NACO often is enlarged to accommodate specific orchestral works. It has also accompanied choral societies, visiting ballet and opera companies, and from 1971-91, the NAC's summer presentations of opera, Festival Ottawa (founded as Festival Canada in 1971). Since the late 1990s, the NACO has accompanied Opera Lyra Ottawa twice each year.

In Ottawa the NACO annually gives subscription concerts, including the Young Peoples' Concert series, over a 46-week season. It has also sponsored Music for a Sunday Afternoon, a series of four to six chamber concerts by members of the orchestra; and the Great Composers Festival.


The NACO fulfills its mandate as Canada's national orchestra through command performances on state occasions and extensive Canadian tours. It has made numerous tours in all parts of Canada. A reduction in funding caused a touring hiatus in the 1990s, with a revival in 1999 when the orchestra undertook a coast-to-coast tour that included concerts, masterclasses with the music director (Pinchas Zukerman) and members of the orchestra, and concert demonstrations in schools and over the Internet. Atlantic Canada and Toronto were visited in 2002.

The NACO's first European tour took place in 1973. The orchestra performed in London, Versailles, Rome, Venice, Warsaw, Riga, Moscow, Leningrad, and other cities, and was described as 'an already mature and accomplished ensemble... there was a splendid litheness and buoyancy in the rhythms and suppleness in the shaping of the melodic lines' (London Daily Telegraph, 2 Jun 1973). It made three subsequent tours to Europe, in 1978, 1990, and 2000.

The orchestra made its first US appearance at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, in 1972 and also performed at the Kennedy Center, Washington, in 1973. It made its Carnegie Hall debut in 1974 and toured the USA and Mexico in 1975 and 2003. Additional tours to the USA took place in 1976, 1979, 1981, 1986, 1990, and 2003. In 1985 the orchestra made its first Asian tour, to Japan and Hong Kong.

The orchestra toured the Middle East and Europe in 2000, performing 15 concerts in 17 cities in addition to educational programs. Canadians were able to follow the progress of the tour by Internet. In conjunction with its 1999, 2000, and 2003 tours, the orchestra produced teacher resource kits, including a CD, which were distributed to Canadian elementary schools.

21st-Century Initiatives

The NACO's first composer-in-residence was Linda Bouchard, 1992-1995, whose commissions from the orchestra were included in the 1995 European tour. Also in 1995 the 20th Century Orchestral Workshops were held, featuring four commissioned works by young Canadian composers. Jon Siddall followed as new music adviser and established the Generations XYZ New Music Festival of concerts that took place January 1997 and January 1998. Under Zukerman the Summer Music Institute, an extensive educational program, was established in 1999 beginning with the Young Artists Program, followed in 2001 by the Conductors' Program and the Young Composers Program in 2003.

In 2002 the NAC New Music Plan was announced, creating the National Arts Centre Composer Awards of $75,000 each. The award entailed three commissions over a four-year period for each composer, in addition to opportunities to work with the orchestra on new music education initiatives. The first recipients were Denys Bouliane, Gary Kulesha, and Alexina Louie.

Periods of Tension

The NACO's status within the NAC has occasionally been challenged. In the late 1980s NAC general director Yvon DesRochers announced plans to allow graduates of conservatories to play in the orchestra. The project was perceived as a threat to the international standard that the NACO had enjoyed, and to the priority of the NACO in the NAC's plans. Morale in the orchestra dropped further when the musicians' contract offer was withdrawn and music director Gabriel Chmura's contract was not renewed. The orchestra went on strike 4 Oct-30 Nov 1989. Further conflict arose when a touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera was booked into the NAC for 10 weeks in mid-season 1992 and a tour arranged for the orchestra during that period. This was interpreted by the public and musicians as a further challenge to the NACO's status in the organization.

Soloists, Conductors, Managers

The orchestra has featured many Canadians as soloists, among them Robert Aitken, Otto Armin, Pierrette Alarie, Donald Bell, Mario Bernardi, Colette Boky, Pierre Boutet, Liona Boyd, Denis Brott, Canadian Brass, Claude Corbeil, Mark DuBois, Raymond Dudley, Lorand Fenyves, Janina Fialkowska, Nicholas Fiore, Maureen Forrester, Gaston Germain, Erica Goodman, Elizabeth Benson Guy, Ida Haendel, Sheila Henig, Diedre Irons, Marek Jablonski, Sharon Krause, Anton Kuerti, Gabrielle Lavigne, Bernard Lagacé, André Laplante, Gwenlynn Little, Judy Loman, Louis Lortie, Malcolm Lowe, Hugh McLean, Phyllis Mailing, Lois Marshall, Mari-Elizabeth Morgen, Mary Morrison, Zara Nelsova, Vladimir Orloff, the Duo Pach, Walter Prystawski (the NACO concertmaster), Louis Quilico, Karen Quinton, Gary Relyea, Joseph Rouleau, Jean-Paul Sévilla, Robert Silverman, Léopold Simoneau, Steven Staryk, Janet Stubbs, Janis Taylor, Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi, and Ronald Turini.

Among foreign solo artists to appear as guests have been Elly Ameling, Martha Argerich, Claudio Arrau, Janet Baker, Robert Casadesus, Phyllis Curtin, Pierre Fournier, Kyung-Wha Chung, Jessye Norman, John Ogdon, Leonard Rose, Peter Serkin, Janos Starker, Frederica von Stade, and Pinchas Zukerman.

Conductors and Guest Conductors

The resident conductors of the NACO have been Mario Bernardi (1969-82), Franco Mannino (1982-6), Gabriel Chmura (1986-90), Trevor Pinnock (1991-8), and Pinchas Zukerman (1998-present). Franz-Paul Decker was appointed principal guest conductor (1991-9). In 1997 founding conductor Mario Bernardi was made conductor laureate and in 2001 Jean-Philippe Tremblay became the first apprentice conductor.

Many foreign conductors have appeared as guests of the NACO, including Géza Anda, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Rudolf Barshai, Charles Dutoit, Kiril Kondrashin, Raymond Leppard, Karl Münchinger, Karl Richter, Maxim Shostakovitch, Walter Susskind, and Sir Michael Tippett.

Canadian or resident Canadian guest conductors have included Kazuyoshi Akiyama, Raffi Armenian, Jean-Marie Beaudet, Boris Brott, Franz-Paul Decker, Mario Duschenes, Victor Feldbrill, Piero Gamba, Harman Haakman, Pierre Hétu, and Boyd Neel.

Orchestra Managers

Orchestra managers have been Ken Murphy 1969-75, Carl Little 1975-8, Andreas Hackh 1978-80, John Kieser 1980-5, and Harold Clarkson 1985-9, succeeded by Christopher Deacon.

Commissioned Works

The following works have been commissioned for the NACO, by the NAC unless otherwise indicated. The date is that of the premiere.

AdaskinDiversion for Orchestra 1969

AnhaltSimulacrum 1987

BeecroftImprovvisazioni Concertanti No. 2 1971

Bell Spirit Trails 1994

BissellCantate Domino (commissioned by the NACO Association) 1977

Bouchard Ressac for orchestra (orchestration commissioned by NAC) 1992; Exquisite Fires (recorded by NACO) 1993; Réciproque (piano trio) 1994; Vertige (recorded by NACO) 1994; Songs for an Acrobat (song cycle for baritone, recorded by NACO) 1995; Eternity (ballet) (recorded by NACO) 1996

Bouliane La neige est blanche mais l'eau est noire 2003

Cardy / Duschenes Rhythm in your Rubbish 2001

ColgrassDelta 1979; The Schubert Birds 1990

FlemingHexad 1972, Our Mind Was the Singer (song cycle for baritone) 1973

ForsythO Canada! (Lavallée, new orchestration) 1996

FreedmanTapestry 1973

Gellman Symphony in Two Movements (commissioned by the CBC for the NACO) 1971; Overture for Ottawa 1974; Two Tapestries 1980; Canticles (commissioned by the Canadian Red Cross for the NACO) 1989; Jãya Overture 1996

GougeonPrimus Tempus (NAC/CBC co-commission) 1994; O Canada! (Lavallée, new orchestration) 1996

Harman Let Me Die Before I Wake 1994

HayesSerenade for English horn, trumpet and strings 1984

Hébert/Tremblay Calme, étale, la mer berce un grand soleil fauve 1995

HétuAntinomie 1977; Flute Concerto Opus 51 1992

Hodkinson, Sydney Chansons de jadis 1981

HolmanChristmas Carols: Adeste fideles/Il est né le divin enfant/While Shepherds Watched/Quittez, pasteurs/Deck the Halls/God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen/Good King Wenceslas/Hark! The Herald Angels Sing 1980

Hui Inner Voices (co-commission with the Saskatoon Symphony, Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra and the NAC) 1995

KeninsSinfonia ad fugam (Symphony No. 6) 1979

KoprowskiCappricio 1988; Sinfonia Concertante 1992

KuleshaViolin Concerto 2003

LevinBlack and White Together - In Memoriam Martin Luther King 1988

Louie The Night is Shattered and the Blue Stars Shiver in the Distance 1997; String Quartet No. 2 2003

MacDermotIncident at Turtle Rock 1975

Mannino Symphony No. 5, Opus 237 "Rideau Lake" (commissioned by G. Hamilton Southam for the NACO) 1986

MatherLe Château de Pompairain 1977

OliverForging Utopia 1998

Peaker Pastoral Medley 1995

Perron Vagues immobiles (pour clarinette et orchestre) 1998

Plamondon Deuxième pièce pour orchestre 1995

PrévostÉvanescence (recorded by NACO) 1970; Ouverture (commissioned by the CBC for the NACO) 1975

RidoutGeorge the Third, His Lament 1976

Riley, DouglasConcerto for piano and orchestra 1982

SchaferEast 1973; Cortège 1977; In the Garden of the Heart (recorded by NACO) 1981; Gitanjali (recorded by NACO) 1992

Schultz Dissolutions I 1995

SomersThose Silent, Awe-Filled Spaces 1978

Staniland Alchemy 2003

SymondsOn an Emerald Sea (never performed at NAC) 1983

Tremblay Jeux de solstices 1974

Ubertelli A Franco Donatoni, scritto come manglo 1995


With Bernardi as Conductor
Beethoven Symphony No. 1 - Malcolm Forsyth Sagittarius. Canadian Brass. 1976. CBC SM-328

Symphony No. 2 - Adaskin Diversion for Orchestra. 1977. CBC SM-333

Symphony No. 4 - Morel Esquisse. 1977. CBC SM-332

Symphony No. 8 - Weinzweig Ballet Suite from the Red Ear of Corn. 1977. CBC SM-345

Brahms Serenade No. 1. 1972. CBC SM-197

Italian Arias: Rossini - Monteverdi - Paisiello - Leoncavallo. Von Stade mezzo. 1977. Col M35138

Mozart Flute Concerto No. 2 K314; Concerto for flute and harp K299. Cram flute, Goodman harp. 1974. CBC SM-262

Violin Concerto No. 3 K216 - Haydn Symphony No. 83. Staryk violin. 1971. CBC SM-174

Violin Concerto No. 5 K219; Serenata notturna No. 6 K239 - Beecroft Improvvisazioni Concertanti No. 2. Staryk violin. 1972. RCI 382/RCA KRL 1-0007

Symphony No. 38 K504 - Eckhardt-Gramatté Triple Concerto. Collins trumpet, Morton clarinet, Corey bassoon. 1974. CBC SM-272

Symphony No. 39 K543 - Tchaikovsky Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello, Op 33. Brott cello. 1974, 1976. CBC SM-306

Symphony No. 41 K551; Ombra felice - Somers Five Songs for Dark Voice. Forrester alto. 1969. RCI 286/RCA LSC 3172

Prokofiev Symphonie classique - Prévost Évanescence - Haydn 4 Arias. Alarie soprano, Simoneau tenor. 1970. RCI 332/RCA VCCS 1640

Schafer East. 1977. RCI 434

Schubert Symphony No. 6 - Wagner Siegfried Idyll. 1972. CBC SM-201

Tippett Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli; Divertimento on 'Sellinger's Round .' Prystawski violin, Roy violin, Whitton cello. 1975. CBC SM-287

Haydn. Symphonies Nos. 101 and 104. 1980. CBC SM-5001

Beethoven. Symphony No. 6. 1981. CBC SM-5008

Poulenc. Aubade. - Ibert. Divertissement. - Debussy. Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. Cram flute, Massé piano. 1982. CBC SM-5013.

Mozart. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Symphony No. 40. 1982. CBC SM-5018.

Beethoven. Symphony No. 7. 1982. CBC SM-5019.

Louie. Shattered Night, Shivering Stars, Thunder Gate, Arc, Love Songs for a Small Planet, Obsessions (Their Own Words). Martin Beaver, violin, Russell Braun, baritone, Cantata Singers of Ottawa, Laurence Ewashko, director. (1999) SMCD 5190.

Schafer. Gitanjali, Adieu Robert Schumann, The Garden of the Heart. Donna Brown, soprano, Judith Forst, Maria Popescu, mezzos. (1997) CBC SMCD 5173.

With Eduardo Mata as Conductor

Bizet. Symphony in C, Mozart. Divertimento No. 11. Floyd, oboe. 1983. RCA XRCI-4689.

Strauss, Richard. Le Bourgeois gentilhomme - Wiren, Dag. Serenade for String Orchestra. 1984. RCA HRCI-5362.

With Franco Mannino as Conductor

Italian Opera Overtures. Overtures by Rossini, Verdi, Donizetti, Wolf-Ferrari, Bellini. 1983. CBC SM-5021.

Strauss, R. Metamorphosen - Schubert. Symphony in B minor. 1985. CBC SM-5034.

Canadian Classics Vol. 2. Somers. North Country - Symonds. Three Atmospheres - Prévost. Célébration - Hétu. Symphony No. 3. 1987. CBC CMC-2987.

Mozart. Music for Flute and Orchestra. Aitken, flute. 1987. CBC SM-5078.

With Gabriel Chmura as Conductor

Haydn. Symphonies Nos. 6, 7 and 8. 1989. CBC SM-5085.

With Franz-Paul Decker as Conductor

Mozart. Clarinet Concerto in A major. - Copland. Concerto for Clarinet and Strings - Weber. Concertino for Clarinet and Orchestra. Campbell, clarinet. 1991 CBC SM-5096.

With Pinchas Zukerman as Conductor

Haydn. Violin Concertos Nos 1 & 2, Symphony No. 22. Zukerman, violin. (1993, re-released 1998).

Vivaldi. The Four Seasons - Haydn Symphony No. 49. Zukerman violin. (1999) CMCD 5194.

Beethoven. Symphonies 1 & 2. Romance No. 2. Zukerman, violin. (2000) CMCD 5201.

Schubert. Symphonies Nos 2 & 3, Rondo for Violin and Strings. Zukerman, violin. (2002) CMCD 5221.

Mozart. Divertimento for Strings, Violin Concerto No. 4, Symphony No. 29. Zukerman, violin. (2003) CMCD 5230-2.

With Other Conductors

Somers. North Country, Suite for Harp and Chamber Orchestra, Lyric for Orchestra, Symphony No. 1. Victor Feldbrill, conductor, Jennifer Swartz, harp. (1996) CBC SMCD 5162.

Bouchard. Exquisite Fire, Ressac for Orchestra, Vertige, Songs for an Acrobat, Eternity. Trevor Pinnock, Derrick Inouye, conductors. Kevin McMillan, baritone. (1998) Marquis Classics 81219.

Further Reading