Young conductor makes strong Grant Park debut with Bernstein, Franck

Karina Canellakis
Chicago Classical Review

When a youthful batonsmith ascends the podium there is invariably a show-me-what-ya-got attitude from veteran cynics, musicians as well as critics. When the conductor is a young, slender, and attractive woman with a flamboyant podium style, the skepticism invariably multiplies threefold.

Karina Canellakis made a strong and impressive local debut Wednesday night at the Grant Park Music Festival.

In her first season as assistant conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Canellakis is clearly a musician to be taken seriously. She remains active as a violinist, and Canellakis has sound ideas about the music she directs and the podium skills to convince an orchestra to go along with her.

She displayed an exceptionally idiomatic feeling for music of Leonard Bernstein, as was shown in Wednesday’s exuberant performance of Fancy Free. 

Canellakis gave us the complete 25-minute ballet, the first time Fancy Free has been heard in its entirety at the lakefront festival. 

Canellakis led a fizzing, high-stepping performance with a notably sassy “Opening Dance,” ample sexy swagger to “Enter Two Girls,” sensual languor to the “Pas de Deux” and hyped-up testosterone in the “Competition Scene.” While the performance had enormous rhythmic kick, Canellakis also balanced textures artfully in the more delicately scored interludes.  Andrea Swan brought uptown swing to the jazzy piano solos and the brass was exceptional as a unit and in their snappy solo moments.

Canellakis was clearly attuned to Franck’s elusive, uber-chromatic style, and the Lento introduction had a striking sense of searching mystery. The ensuing Allegro was incisive and dramatic, the conductor deftly charting the ebb and flow.

In the Allegretto, Canellakis drew finely nuanced dynamics and transparent textures from the Grant Park players. The final movement provided the requisite payoff, surging and energized yet firmly controlled, the conductor minding the “non troppo” marking.

Karina Canellakis is the real thing. Let’s hope we see her again in Chicago soon. 

Read the rest of the review here