Canellakis leads Milwaukee Symphony in a bold, exciting concert

Karina Canellakis, Jennifer Koh
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The Milwaukee Symphony revisited a pillar of the standard orchestral repertoire on Friday morning, with a thoughtful, constantly forward-leaning performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 that reminded the listener just why the piece is on the list of standards.

Guest conductor Karina Canellakis led a direct, wonderfully expressive performance of the piece, full of bold, driving, decisive passages that stood in wonderful contrast to the piece’s most lyrical, graceful lines.

This was a delightfully fresh, unsentimental interpretation. Canellakis gave beautiful shape to the most poignant passages and allowed players and sections room for expressive interpretations of those lines, steering clear of melodrama and syrupy phrasing.

The biggest moments were resonant and exciting without sliding into the ponderous playing that often weights performances of this symphony.

Those big moments were insistent and regal, standing in thrilling contrast to the symphony’s most touching, tender melodies. They came across the footlights with dignity and grandeur, yet without a bit of frenzy.

Violinist Jennifer Koh joined the orchestra for a riveting performance of Karol Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 2, completed in 1933.

Koh brought a clear sense of line and direction to the early part of the piece. She used a great deal of physical movement in her communication with the orchestra, not all of which translated into her phrasing.

She moved to a still, focused stance and laser-like intensity as she began the concerto’s fascinatingly complex cadenza, shifting her energy to some rivetingly nuanced playing and pristinely executed technical passages.

Canellakis and the orchestra were collaborators in this performance, providing support for Koh’s interpretation, but also making compelling music with the rich score.
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