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Karina Canellakis

Review: At the Dallas Symphony, a former assistant conductor makes a compelling return

From the Dallas Morning News

After the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s good to see audiences really coming back to live performances. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra is doing something right, judging from excellent attendance at recent concerts.

The Friday night audience at the Meyerson Symphony Center was substantial and audibly enthusiastic, and deservedly so. Returning to the podium was Karina Canellakis, an impressive DSO assistant conductor from 2014 to 2016, now with quite an international career. Currently principal conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic (where one of her predecessors was former DSO music director Jaap van Zweden), she’s also principal guest conductor of both the London Philharmonic and the Berlin Radio Symphony.
This time as a DSO guest conductor, she led an all-Slavic program: Dvorák’s tone poem The Wood Dove, the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (with the excellent violinist Randall Goosby) and the Concerto for Orchestra by the Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski. Start to finish, Canellakis demonstrated clarity and authority — and a visceral feeling for the music’s textures, shapes and directions.

The Dvorák was inspired by a folk tale about a woman poisoning her husband, falling in love with a younger man, then, overcome with guilt, drowning herself in a river. But you need to know none of that to appreciate the 20-minute succession of muted strings, surprisingly tangy harmonies and jolly tunes, most sympathetically performed.

Canellakis, herself an accomplished violinist, was a most sympathetic collaborator, as was the orchestra. Goosby rewarded a roaring ovation with Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s sassy Louisiana Blues Strut.

Completed in 1954, a decade after Bartók’s work of the same title, Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra takes up where its precursor leaves off…Canellakis and the DSO certainly lived up to its challenges, with finely focused tension even in the most hushed moments. The extroversions were sonic spectaculars. Opening counterpoints were heightened with first and second violins divided on left and right of the stage.

The DSO has had a succession of very fine assistant conductors. Friday’s concert certainly showed why Canellakis’ post-DSO career prospers. Repeat performances recommended.

Read the full review.