A Warm Welcome for Alexander Shelley

Meet the new Sharon and Timothy Ubben artistic and music director of Artis—Naples

Conductor Alexander Shelley has been named the Sharon and Timothy Ubben artistic and music director of Artis—Naples. Photo © Rémi Thériault
Conductor Alexander Shelley has been named the Sharon and Timothy Ubben artistic and music director of Artis—Naples. Photo © Rémi Thériault

Conductor Alexander Shelley has been named the Sharon and Timothy Ubben artistic and music director of Artis—Naples, where he will provide artistic leadership for Naples Philharmonic, as well as for the entire multidisciplinary arts organization. His appointment as artistic and music director designate began with the 2023-24 season; he will begin his official tenure in the 2024-25 season, succeeding Andrey Boreyko. 

Born in London in October 1979 to celebrated concert pianists, Shelley studied cello and conducting in Germany. He performs across six continents with the world’s finest orchestras and is known for the precision and integrity of his interpretations, his creative programming, and the breadth of his repertoire. He was unanimously selected for his new roles at Artis—Naples due to his leadership from the podium, his confidence in the future role of the orchestra, his innovative approach to multidisciplinary programming, and most importantly, for understanding the role the arts play in the community. Shelley will remain music director of Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra and principal associate conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, positions he has held since 2015. This is his first titled position in the United States. Read on for a brief interview with Shelley.

NI: When did you first conduct the Naples Philharmonic? 

Shelley: I had a memorable first encounter with the Naples Philharmonic in February of 2022. My friend, the marvelous French virtuoso David Fray, was soloist for Schumann’s Piano Concerto, and the orchestra and I performed music from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. It is an extraordinary work that manipulates the listener’s perception of time and homes in on the profoundest feelings of passion and longing. The orchestra played with utter commitment, and the audience response was rapturous. On top of this, the Vienna Philharmonic was performing the night I arrived in town, so I had the added bonus of hearing that superb orchestra in the flesh. All in all, it was a special first encounter.

Alexander Shelley. Photo © Rémi Thériault
Alexander Shelley. Photo © Rémi Thériault

What were your first impressions of Naples?

That special combination of a natural paradise and an artistic hub makes a strong first impression. I was immediately struck by the cultural heft of Artis—Naples, which serves as a home to brilliant and growing organizations—the Naples Philharmonic, the Baker Museum, and the International Film Festival. It’s an increasingly important and respected touring destination for major national and international partners. Coupled with the beautiful charm of downtown, the food, the beaches, and perhaps most importantly, the warmth and generosity of the people, Naples most definitely seduced me.

Where is home for you? Will you relocate to Naples? Have your wife, Zoe, and your sons, Sasha and Leo, visited Naples?

My children were born in Canada. We spent their earliest years commuting between there and the UK. Our eldest is now in school in England, so that is currently the focal point of family life. We intend to have a home in Naples and to spend as much time here as allows. For us, building friendships in new communities and in new places is one of the greatest joys and privileges of my profession, so connecting with our Neapolitan family will be a priority.

You were trained in Germany. How many languages do you speak?

I am fluently bilingual in English and German and can get by in French. (Canada’s National Arts Centre, where I am music director, is a bilingual organization.) As for Italian, I have conductor’s use of the language, which means lots of words for music and from idiosyncratic opera librettos.  

You have conducted and presented many open-air events. Do you prefer these over concert halls? Will you encourage and introduce open-air events in Naples? 

The venue and audience are as much a part of a performance as the music. Or put differently, each piece of music has a different effect in a different setting. I find it very exciting to mix things up, to experience art in unusual contexts and in unexpected places. I also find it exciting to reach new audiences, which can mean seeking them out and adventuring outside the setting of the concert hall. I know that such things will be an important part of the conversation as I build my understanding of the community. 

What are you most excited to accomplish in the next four seasons as artistic and music director of Artis—Naples?

I have such immense admiration for what has been built here over the last few decades and am proud to have the opportunity to build on those impressive foundations. Artis—Naples has a reputation as one of the most interesting and forward-looking organizations of its kind, and what we do here is as important now as it ever has been. That combination of strong foundations, ambition for the future, and relevance to our time is invigorating. It is my hope that we can be a source of excitement, interest, adventure, and pride for our community, as well as a beacon for the arts that radiates well beyond state and national borders. 

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