Editor's note: This version of the story corrects the first name of Karina Canellakis' brother.
Every season, David Alan Miller, the music director for the Albany Symphony Orchestra, likes to put his orchestra in another conductor’s hands. Sometimes it’s because he’s guest conducting out of town, but usually, he said, he just wants the musicians to see who else is out there.
Miller said he knew just the person to ask for Saturday’s concert: Karina Canellakis, who will make her ASO debut.
“I’d heard great things about her through the grapevine from other orchestras,” Miller said. “I thought it would be exciting to have her with the ASO. She’s one of the most in-demand conductors in the world.”
Did Canellakis’ win of the 2016 Sir George Solti Conducting Award influence his decision?
“No. I’ve heard very positive comments that I doubt if it’s because of her winning the Solti,” Miller said. “I’ve never met her or worked with her but I am an admirer.”
Conducting is still a fairly new world for Canellakis, who is in her early 30s.
“I’m at the beginning of my trajectory as a conductor,” she said in a 2014 interview on www.soundcloud.com during a break in rehearsal with the Dallas Symphony where she had just begun her two-year tenure as assistant conductor. “I’m learning much of the music for the first time, but it’s new and exciting studying for me.”
Earlier that year, Canellakis had been completing her graduate degree in conducting at the Juilliard School, where she’d won several conducting awards.
Before she even picked up a stick, however, she was known for her virtuosic violin playing. After graduating from the Curtis Institute of Music, she spent numerous summers at Marlboro Music, joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra string section and been guest concertmaster with the Bergen (Norway) Philharmonic.
But during her two year stint with the Berlin Philharmonic as a member of the Orchester-Akademie, she caught the attention of the orchestra’s music director Sir Simon Rattle, who encouraged her to pursue conducting. Later at Juilliard, Alan Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic, and Fabio Luisi, principal guest conductor with the Metropolitan Opera, became mentors.
Since her Dallas job ended last year, Canellakis has enjoyed a steady schedule of international debuts coupled with a consistent stream of rave reviews. The transition from instrumentalist to conductor has been a major learning experience.
“It’s a big adjustment from being a violinist,” she said. “At home you can practice your part and know just how you’re going to play it. But I study my scores only by looking at them. It’s very cerebral. [In performance] it’s a lot of reacting in the moment.”
While she still has a lot to learn about the intricacies of wind and percussion instruments, Canellakis is grateful for her violin career.
“I can’t imagine conducting without having had my violin experience,” she said. “That experience is always close at hand. It helps me tremendously. I feel the connection. But I talk to the winds all the time and especially the percussion. It’s totally fascinating. Conducting is fun . . . a lot of work and pressure, but enjoyable, too.”
Saturday’s concert has a more personal connection in that her brother, cellist Nicholas Canellakis, who will also appear this summer with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at Saratoga Springs, will perform along with pianist Michael Brown and violinist Elena Urioste in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. Also programmed are Jennifer Higdon’s “Dance Cards” and Brahms’ Symphony No. 4.
Albany Symphony Orchestra
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Palace Theatre, 19 Clinton Ave., Albany
HOW MUCH: $57-$16
MORE INFO: 694-3300; www.albanysymphony.com