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Five Things to Know about Artis—Naples’ New Conductor

Get to know Alexander Shelley, the British conductor leading as the new artistic and music director at Artis—Naples.

BY April 18, 2023
Alexander Shelley
(Photo courtesy Artis–Naples)

Sunday night, at Artis–Naples’ private, intimate President’s Reception and Dinner, CEO Kathleen Van Bergen unveiled an exciting addition to the cultural center’s team: British conductor Alexander Shelley. The young conductor, who also serves as principal associate conductor for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London and music director for Canada’s National Arts Centre, starts this season as the artistic and music director designate. He’s taking over leading the Naples Philharmonic immediately to round out this season and plan a robust 2023-2024 lineup that blurs the lines between visual and performing arts. “He brings that breadth of experience and leadership,” Kathleen says. Here, we catch up with Alexander on his passion for connecting to musicians, engaging with the audience and getting to know the city that made his parents come home “tan and happy” for so many years. 


1. His father performed with Naples Philharmonic. 

Hailing from a family of professional touring musicians, Alexander Shelley often says he learned to keep a tune before he was talking. His father, pianist Howard Shelley, taught him to tickle the ivories as a toddler, and his mother coached him on cello (he played the latter professionally before taking the baton). Long before Kathleen invited Alexander to perform at Artis—Naples, Howard was a fan-favorite guest pianist with Naples Philharmonic. “As an 18-year-old, I started to hear these stories from my father and mother of this place called Naples,” Alexander says. “They’d come home all tan and happy and fulfilled.” His family connection came full circle on Sunday when he talked with longtime patrons who knew his parents from their Naples performances.


2. He loves a good chat.

“It’s always about the conversations—with your colleagues in the building, with creative artists, with the musicians on stage, with the teams behind the scenes that bring the shows to life, with audiences, with communities near and far,” Alexander says. The conductor is as excited for the conversations he’ll have with audiences during talk-back sessions as he is for the casual chats he’ll encounter exploring the community on days off. Kathleen says Alexander’s contextual speeches during his performance as a visiting conductor this past season led to a lively discussion among patrons as they filed out of Hayes Hall. “They felt welcomed into the communal experience of the performance,” Kathleen says.  


3. His wife played an Amazonian in Wonder Woman.

Alexander Shelley was working as an assistant conductor for Britain’s National Youth Orchestra when he met his now-wife, Zoe, who was then playing the cello. At the time, the young conductor had no idea he’d be married to a Wonder Woman star. Zoe landed a role as an Amazonian warrior in the 2017 DC Comics hit while working a second career in personal training. A client heard about casting for tall, athletic women in an upcoming film and urged Zoe to audition. The musician-turned-fitness-model endured six months of rigorous training to prepare for the intense beachside battle scene. Now, raising their two sons, Zoe runs an online fitness program, relaying postpartum workout tips to more than 12,000 followers on Instagram. 


4. He’s kind of a big deal in Germany.

Alexander Shelley took Germany by storm in 2008 when he became the country’s youngest chief conductor of the storied Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra, where he oversaw the opening of the orchestra’s academy in 2015. And at 44, it’s no surprise the conductor is passionate about engaging the next generation. He won the prestigious Deutsche Gründerpreis and ECHO awards—two of the country’s most celebrated musical achievements. One award was for his grassroots work, and the other for an album he conducted and recorded with his students at the National Youth Orchestra of Germany, which he has since led on multiple tours. In a fabulous farewell fashion, 80,000 fans showed up for his final open-air concert with Nuremberg Symphony in 2017. 


5. He believes art is for everyone.

“One of the unfortunate cliches of classical music is that it’s something of the past, or for a particular type of person, or that it’s elitist—and I’ve never been able to understand that perspective,” Alexander says. To a conductor born and raised around professional musicians, Alexander has always seen the industry as welcoming and collaborative, centered on an open, creative dialogue. “If I were to break down any barrier, it would be the barrier that would give anyone the feeling that they’re not prepared enough or well-versed enough to enjoy symphonic music or any other music,” he says. “I think that is a priority for all of us in the arts, to open up and let as much oxygen in as possible and say, ‘It’s okay if you don’t know anything about it, just come and experience it.’” 


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