Music Director, Maestro Carl Topilow

The people behind the mission.

Carl topilow

Music Director

Carl Topilow

Music Director and Principal Conductor

Carl Topilow, currently in his 42nd year with the National Repertory Orchestra, has led the orchestra to the forefront of summer music festivals.  He has assisted in the training of talented young musicians and conductors for positions in orchestras in the United States and abroad.  His manner of presenting the music through musical illustrations and guides has enhanced the concert experience for the NRO’s appreciative audiences. 

Topilow is the founding conductor of the Cleveland Pops Orchestra and is also music director and conductor of the Firelands Symphony Orchestra in Sandusky, Ohio.  Past positions have included conductor and director of the orchestral program at the Cleveland Institute of Music, principal pops conductor with the Toledo Symphony and Southwest Florida Symphony.  He has served as guest conductor for more than 120 orchestras in 37 states and 12 foreign countries, invariably finding NRO alumni wherever his travels take him. 

Topilow’s wife Shirley is the Director of the Morgenstern Dance Studio and President and CEO of the Cleveland Pops Orchestra.  Their daughter Jenny, an NRO alumna from the 2001 and 2003 seasons, is a member of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.  This fall, daughter Emily will be starting her senior year at Bowling Green State University (OH) where she studies psychology and marketing and performs as a violinist with the university orchestra. Carl’s hobbies include reading, foreign languages, traveling, golf, and especially enjoys his time with his two grandchildren, Edie and Arlo.

Topilow is particularly proud of the accomplishments of his assistant conductors. They hold or have held positions with the following orchestras:
  • Annapolis Symphony
  • Bakersfield Symphony
  • Baltimore Symphony
  • Binghamton (NY) Symphony
  • Boise Symphony
  • Buffalo Philharmonic
  • Cincinnati Symphony
  • Cleveland Orchestra
  • Colorado Symphony
  • Columbus (OH) Symphony
  • Evansville Philharmonic
  • Houston Symphony
  • Illinois Philharmonic
  • Indianapolis Symphony
  • Ithaca College Symphony
  • Kansas City Symphony
  • Limoges (France) Opera
  • Louisville Orchestra
  • Mansfield Symphony
  • Naples Philharmonic
  • New Haven Symphony
  • Northwest Arkansas Symphony
  • Owensboro Philharmonic
  • Quad Cities Symphony
  • Rice University Orchestra
  • Richmond Symphony
  • Santa Fe Symphony
  • Seattle Symphony
  • Springfield (MA) Symphony
  • St. Paul Chamber Orchestra
  • Symphony in C
  • Symphony of Southeast Texas
  • Thunder Bay Symphony
  • Toledo Symphony
  • University of Minnesota Symphony


“I attended NRO in 2006 and 2007 and I was treated as a professional, giving me a new confidence as I embraced and grew into meeting those high expectations. I had the privilege of serving as your concertmaster for two summers as well as performing the Brahms and Sibelius violin concertos as a soloist.”
“I would have to say that, NRO offers real life experiences within one of the most beautiful parts of the country.  I enjoyed every second in Breckenridge and would not be where I am today without NRO and the doors that it helped me open.”
“The summer I spent at the NRO was the perfect experience for me at that time. It helped me transition from the mentality of ‘student’ to ‘professional’. NRO teaches the tools and confidence needed to succeed as performing musicians of the highest level.”
“The training provided at the NRO allows serious musicians the perfect opportunity to hone their craft under the guidance of great conductors and alongside highly skilled colleagues who share their passion and excitement for music making.”
Michael Kemp, Principal Timpanist, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
“My summer at NRO was transformational. I wouldn’t have the experience, positivity, and confidence to be successful in this world without that summer.”
“The experience at NRO helped me tremendously to grow as a professional musician before I went on to my next orchestral positions at the New World Symphony and The Omaha Symphony.  The continuous pursuit of the highest artistry at NRO has always been my inspiration for my performing career”
Yu “Dean” Zhang, Principal Keyboard, Omaha Symphony
“Working with the National Repertory Orchestra for the past two seasons was an indispensable experience for me to learn what it took to successfully manage a professional ensemble and anticipate musicians’ needs on a consistent basis. It was during my season as the NRO Intern that I realized my passion in collaborating with musicians from the administrative aspect. No matter where I end up, I will be forever grateful for the wonderful team and incredibly talented musicians I had the opportunity to work with.” (2013 NRO Personnel Intern and 2014 NRO Orchestra Manager)
Emily Tuan, Operations Manager, New England Conservatory Preparatory School
“For me, NRO was a huge turning point for my playing. I can’t recommend the NRO enough for young musicians looking to play great rep, with great musicians, in a beautiful part of the country.”
“I’ve known so many people who have gone through this program.  You find NRO alum everywhere, in every orchestra.  It’s wonderful, a really nice place to grow.  Everyone is very nurturing and supportive.  It really trains everybody, not only in the playing but in the mindset.”
“My musical career has been moving forward significantly since my time with the NRO. The music festival not only brought my playing to a higher level, but also fulfilled my dream of playing a solo performance when I won the concerto competition.”
“NRO was a crucial part of my musical development, and I carry the experiences I had in Breckenridge with me to this day. The sheer amount of diversity in programming at the NRO helped to shape me into a versatile musician with experience in multiple styles of playing.”
“My experiences with the National Repertory Orchestra are unforgettable. For me, it was a place to make lasting connections with new friends and really set deep roots in the orchestral repertoire that I wouldn’t have been able to do at any other summer festival.”
Michael Marks, Principal Bass, Arizona Opera
“I really appreciate my time back at NRO – covering a ton of repertoire in a very short amount of time was demanding, but all so very worth it. Thank you very much for the great experience, NRO!”
“I remember walking away (from the first rehearsal) just with a big smile on my face because I knew I had young, enthusiastic and really talented musicians to work with.  And it’s kind of like a boot camp for young musicians who want to go into the professional ranks.”
“I truly believe that the National Repertory Orchestra program is unique. The great benefit provided to these young people by their experience at NRO is immensely important to them, and in a very real sense, it will be figured prominently at the heart of their ongoing development and will help to define the future of orchestral life and music in our country.”
“I have been blessed to work with virtually every major American orchestra, many of them multiple times, and I can say that without a shadow of a doubt my recent experience as soloist and conductor with the National Repertory Orchestra was one of the highlights of my recent musical life.”
“I am deeply grateful for my summer playing with the NRO. Since my summer in Breckenridge, I have completed a Bachelor of Music degree at the Manhattan School of Music and a Master of a Music degree at The Juilliard School. I am now ready and excited to take on my role performing with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.”
“NRO was an incredible place for me to gain experience playing orchestral repertoire at a very high level. In rehearsals, we were treated as professionals, and outside of rehearsals we were treated with the greatest warmth by Breckenridge locals and our host families.”
“I had two of the best summers, both in learning and in fun, of my life. I got to share the stage with tons of incredible people, and had amazing host parents.”
“The NRO was an exceptional pre-professional experience for me and an integral part of my musical development.  I have very fond memories of my two summers in Breckenridge and am grateful for the exciting musical opportunities I had there.”
“The NRO was crucial to my musical career because it established strong friendships within the arts community. The world of the orchestral musician is small and the connections you make are important. With so many talented students at the NRO, I was bound to meet future leaders of our art. Also, the fast-paced nature of the festival’s programming allowed me to get a sense a professional orchestra’s schedule. The amount of repertoire covered and the level at which the orchestra performed made for a challenging and enriching experience for me.” (NRO 2008 Bassoon and Contrabassoon) 
“My experience at NRO has prepared me very well not only because of the musical and artistic opportunities it provides, but because NRO is unyielding with it’s vigorous and demanding schedule, I have been extremely well prepared for my new position.”