Mario Bernardi (1930-2013)

2001 Lifetime Artistic Achievement (Classical Music)

In a career spanning over 40 years, Maestro Mario Bernardi has directed most of this country's major orchestras and opera companies. The discipline of his work, the conscientiousness of his programming, and the outstanding results he has achieved as an orchestra builder have earned him a reputation as the foremost Canadian conductor of his generation. Throughout his career he has championed the works of Canadian composers and has commissioned, premiered and recorded many of these works.

Maestro Bernardi was born in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, in 1930, and studied at the Venice Conservatory in Italy and at Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music. He made his opera conducting debut in 1957 with the Canadian Opera Company, and in 1963 was appointed Coach and Assistant Conductor at the Sadler's Wells Opera Company, London (now the English National Opera). From 1966 to 1968 he was co-Music Director of the company, the first and only Canadian to be so honoured.

In 1969 he became the Founding Conductor of the newly-formed National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO) in Ottawa. As such he was responsible for the selection of the musicians and for shaping the orchestra into the renowned 46-member ensemble it has become today. With NACO he directed premieres of works by numerous Canadian composers, and also performed as a piano soloist, conducting from the keyboard. Under his leadership NACO built a top-notch reputation both in the recording studio and among critics, and toured the United States, Mexico, Europe and Russia. Maestro Bernardi returned to the NAC for its 25th anniversary celebrations in 1993-94 and has conducted NACO every season since that time. He was appointed Conductor Laureate in 1997, a position he still holds.

In 1971 he was appointed General Music Director for the National Arts Centre and Artistic Director for its highly successful summer opera festival, Festival Canada (later Festival Ottawa), which produced over 20 operas between 1971 and 1982 and became a landmark in the history of opera in this country.

Maestro Bernardi is also Principal Conductor of the CBC Vancouver Orchestra (since 1983) and Conductor Laureate of the Calgary Philharmonic (since 1992). He has been a guest conductor for, among others, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the San Francisco, New York City, and Metropolitan Operas, the Opéra de Montréal, the Warsaw Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and the Chicago and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras. He has made some 50 recordings with orchestras around the world, including all three of "his" orchestras – NACO, the Calgary Philharmonic, and the CBC Vancouver Orchestra.

Awards and honours include: Companion of the Order of Canada (1972); National Arts Centre Award (Governor General's Performing Arts Award) for exceptional achievement over the previous performance season (1999); Jean A. Chalmers National Music Award (1999); Canadian Conference of the Arts Diplöme d'honneur (1982); Canada Music Council Medal (1981); and honorary degrees from the Universities of British Columbia, Calgary, Windsor and Ottawa, and Carleton, Lakehead and Laurentian Universities.