Canellakis triumphs on podium with DSO

10.04.14
Karina Canellakis
Dallas Morning News

By Scott Cantrell

It’s the stuff of a young conductor’s dreams — and nightmares: to be called in as a late replacement for an indisposed big-league conductor. That’s how Karina Canellakis, starting her first season as assistant conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, ended up on the Meyerson Symphony Center podium Saturday night, in a program including the long and fearsomely challenging Eighth Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich.

Although music director Jaap van Zweden conducted the program’s Thursday and Friday performances, he was in such pain from a longstanding shoulder problem that his doctor advised him to cancel all engagements for the month of October. On Friday, having sat through van Zweden’s rehearsals and Thursday performance, Canellakis was told she’d have to conduct Saturday and Sunday.

She rose spectacularly to the challenge Saturday night, leading with great clarity and expressivity. Even in the shifting time signatures of the Shostakovich, one always knew what meter was in play, and where each downbeat was.

In the opening Mozart E-flat major Piano Concerto (No. 14, K. 449) the motions of her body even conveyed how notes were to be sounded and phrases tapered. Yes, the orchestra had been fastidiously prepared by van Zweden, but Canellakis still beautifully conveyed shape, direction and breath. Emanuel Ax was again a similarly expressive soloist.

If the Shostakovich just missed the incredibly sustained tension that van Zweden managed on opening night, it got a most accomplished performance. I’d complain mainly that the music sometimes got louder sooner than it needed to.

There was a roaring and well-deserved ovation at the end, the musicians even signaling their approval by waving bows and stomping feet. Canellakis graciously acknowledged players who’d had important solos, then whole sections of the orchestra, before taking her own bows.

I’d heard good reports of Canellakis from DSO musicians, and she certainly displayed excellent technique and sophisticated musicianship. Although an insert announcing the conductor change, and including Canellakis' biography, was reportedly printed, it didn't get into any program I saw. The short version is that she’s a New York native with a bachelor’s degree in violin from the Curtis Institute of Music and a master’s in conducting from the Juilliard School.