Consistent praise has followed this vibrant orchestra throughout its history of touring both nationally and internationally, recording, and commissioning Canadian works. Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra, now under the direction of renowned conductor/ violinist/violist Pinchas Zukerman, continues to draw accolades both abroad and at its home in Ottawa where it gives over 100 performances a year.
The NAC Orchestra was founded in 1969 as the resident orchestra of the newly opened National Arts Centre, with Jean-Marie Beaudet as Director of Music and Mario Bernardi as founding conductor and (from 1971) Music Director until 1982. He was succeeded by Franco Mannino (1982 to 1987), Gabriel Chmura (1987 to 1990), and Trevor Pinnock (1991-1997). In April 1998, Pinchas Zukerman was named Music Director of the NAC Orchestra.
In addition to a full series of subscription concerts at the National Arts Centre each season, tours are undertaken to regions throughout Canada and around the world. Since the arrival of Pinchas Zukerman, education has been an extremely important component of these tours. He has led the Orchestra on tours within Canada in 1999, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008, to Europe and Israel in 2000, and the United States and Mexico in 2003, with educational activities ranging from masterclasses and question-and-answer sessions to sectional rehearsals with youth and community orchestras and student matinees. Teacher Resource Kits have been developed for distribution to elementary schools in the regions toured and across Canada, and the public has been able to follow each tour through fully interactive websites which are now archived on the NAC’s Performing Arts Website at www.artsalive.ca.
In 1999 Pinchas Zukerman initiated the NAC Young Artists Program, which is now part of the NAC Summer Music Institute (SMI) including the Conductors Program founded in 2001, and the Composers Program founded in 2003. Over eleven years the SMI has provided training with an international faculty headed by Zukerman to 669 participants from 36 countries. In 2007, Pinchas Zukerman launched the Institute for Orchestral Studies, a season-long program charged with developing highly talented musicians for orchestral careers. Other Orchestra education activities at home include Musicians in the Schools, student matinees and open rehearsals, and masterclasses. Since the arrival of Pinchas Zukerman, the Orchestra is also exploring education through long-distance Broadband videoconferencing, and increased use of the Internet.
The NAC Orchestra has 40 recordings to its name, six with Pinchas Zukerman: Haydn, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Schubert and two of Mozart (a CD of flute quartets, and a CD of orchestral music and string quintets). The commissioning of original Canadian works has always been an important part of the National Arts Centre’s mandate with over 90 works commissioned to date.