Rising Star Karina Canellakis to Conduct Seattle Symphony

Karina Canellakis conducting the Julliard Orchestra at Lincoln Center (Photo by Hiroyuki Ito)

One of today’s most sought-after conductors, Karina Canellakis makes her Seattle Symphony debut with Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite on May 17 & 20.

By Andrew Stiefel

When Karina Canellakis was only a few months into her first season as the assistant conductor for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, she got one of those rare, big breaks that can launch a young conductor’s career. At the last minute, she stepped in for the orchestra’s music director, Jaap van Zweden, to lead Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8 — without a single rehearsal.

Her performance made headlines in 2014, and now, four years later, she has been named the next chief conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. Next week, she makes her Seattle Symphony debut on May 17 & 20 conducting Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite and Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major with Seattle Symphony Principal Cellist Efe Baltacıgil.

Canellakis fondly remembers the first time she performed Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite as a violin student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia with Russian conductor Yuri Termirkanov. “He didn’t speak in the rehearsal, only showed us with mime-like gestures what the character was and how to play,” she recalls.

That same clarity of gesture is instantly recognizable in Canellakis’ conducting, helping bring the distinct musical worlds of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet to life. “There can be a density and intensity of sound in parts, and then an ethereal, lighter-than-air quality that can come just few seconds later,” explains Canellakis. “I love this ability that Prokofiev had to depict varying characters and tell a story with both his orchestration and his melodies.”

Before she started conducting, Canellakis had a successful career as a violinist, performing with the Berlin Philharmonic’s Orchester-Akademie and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She was initially encouraged to study conducting by Sir Simon Rattle, the Berlin Philharmonic’s Music Director at the time. “I always loved studying scores, and took conducting classes from a young age, as I was interested to know more than just the violin part,” she explains. “I wanted to understand the piece from the inside out.”

After completing her studies at Juilliard, Canellakis was the Assistant Conductor of the Dallas Symphony for two years, working alongside Jaap van Zweden. “As a conductor, I love how much music I am learning — operas, symphonies, tone poems — the entire repertoire is so vast and wonderful,” says Canellakis. “I also love feeling connected to the musicians in an orchestra, making eye contact and feeling that communication without words.”

That connection with the musicians is what makes her performances so compelling — her deep love for this music is immediately apparent. An international career requires extraordinary focus and commitment, and as Canellakis notes, “You must have an exuberance and love of music that can galvanize people, and most importantly: to be completely in love with music, so passionately, that you will put up with a very difficult lifestyle for the sake of the music!”

At her concerts with the Seattle Symphony, Canellakis will also conduct Dvořák’s rarely performed orchestral tone poem, The Wild Dove, and Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major with Seattle Symphony Principal Cello Efe Baltacıgil as the soloist.

Experience Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet with Karina Canellakis and the Seattle Symphony on May 17 & 20!


Karina Canellakis’ performances are generously underwritten by Eric and Margaret Rothchild. Efe Baltacıgil’s performances are generously underwritten by Patricia and Jon Rosen.

Posted on April 18, 2018