The National Arts Centre Orchestra's 2016- 2017 lineup is buff with the big boys of classical music, with their biggest hits performed by a roster of modern-day stars.

"It's all about creating a really healthy balance of new creations by composers we really believe in and the great classics," said NACO music director Alexander Shelley at the launch Friday. 

The upcoming season will feature works by Beethoven, Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Brahms, Chopin, and Mozart, played by the likes of violinist Joshua Bell, and pianists Angela Hewitt, Louis Lortie, and Jonathan Biss.

A nine-day festival exploring the music of Beethoven and Schumann will roll out performances of all of Beethoven's piano concertos.

No Messiah this year

Shelley took over the reins as music director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra last September to an abundance of good will and enthusiasm, and that continues as he looks to his sophomore year.

While big things are expected for 2017 — when Canada celebrates its 150th birthday and the NAC's new facelift is revealed — for now, Shelley has the challenge of programming for a building that is under construction.

That's led him to plan for a truncated season. Traditional NACO Christmas concerts, such as Handel's Messiah, will not be held this year.

Alexander Shelley

NACO music director Alexander Shelley is offering a season jam-packed with big and familiar names in classical music. (NAC Orchestra)

Highlights of the 2016-2017 season:

  • World-renowned American violinist Joshua Bell opens the season, performing the Brahms violin concerto. (Oct. 6-7)
  • All five of Beethoven's piano concertos performed at Beethoven-Schumann festival. (Oct. 12-20)
  • Romance on the big screen: the classic film of love and sacrifice, Casablanca, will be shown as a full orchestra performs Max Steiner's lush, dramatic score. (Feb. 9-11)
  • World premieres from seven Canadian composers including Oscar winner Howard Shore, who scored the music for The Lord of Rings film trilogy. Shore has written a new work for classical guitar sensation Miloš. (Feb. 23-24) 
  • From Russia with love: the legendary St. Petersburg Philharmonic arrives for its first visit to Canada's capital, with big music from Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich in tow. (Feb. 25)
  • Louis Riel: Acclaimed Canadian baritone Russell Braun takes on the role of the Métis folk hero in a full re-staging of Harry Somers' 1967 opera. (June 15-17, 2017)

Joshua Bell. Photograph by Phil Knott

On opening, night violinist Joshua Bell will perform the Brahms violin concerto. (Phil Knott)

The hugely popular Casual Fridays series — where patrons mingle, sip cocktails, and chat about music before, during, and after concerts — continues with appearances from Miloš and Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki.​