Karina Canellakis on women in music: ‘Just go ahead & do it!’

Her father was a conductor, yet it didn’t occur to her to follow in his footsteps. Karina Canellakis (New York, 1982) became a professional violinist, studying with Ida Kavafian at the Curtis Institute. She made a career in chamber music, and as soloist under renowned conductors such as Bernard Haitink, Esa-Pekka Salonen & Christian Thielemann. But she also played as an orchestral musician, notably in the Chicago Symphony and Berlin Philharmonic, whose Academy she attended from 2005-07.

Karina Canellakis conducting © Chris Christodoulou

It was Sir Simon Rattle who suggested she take up the conducting baton, but it took some years for this idea to sink in. After she’d finished a masters course in conducting with Alan Gilbert at Juilliard, her career gained momentum. From 2014-16 she was assistant conductor to Jaap van Zweden with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. In 2014 she stepped in for him when he couldn’t conduct Shostakovich 8 – at such short notice she didn’t even have one rehearsal. Two years later she won the Georg Solti Conducting Award.

On 16 March 2018 Canellakis made her debut with the Dutch Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, in AVRTROSVrijdagconcert, in a programme featuring musci by Britten, Shostakovich & Beethoven. I interviewed her for the live broadcast on the classical station Radio4 two days before, after her second rehearsal with the Dutch musisians. I was struck by the energy and enthusiasm with which Canellakis conducted, and by the freshness she brought to Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. The rapport between musicians and conductor was evident.

In our interview we talked about the relationship between playing the violin and conducting, about her cooperation with Jaap van Zweden and her hopes for the future. Little did we know that barely two months later Canellakis would be appointed chief conductor of the Dutch Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. This is a milestone in more respects than one. First, it doesn’t occur often that a conductor is invited to be chief after their first ever concert. Secondly, Canellakis is the first woman conductor to become chief of an orchestra in the Netherlands.

When asked about her commitment to women composers, Canellakis replied this is not really one of her priorities, though she is committed to promoting music by forgotten composers in general. Also she ‘couldn’t care less’ about male conductors making derogatory remarks about women conductors: ‘It’s 2018! We mustn’t talk about it, we must just go ahead and do it!’

You can listen to our interview here:

About Thea Derks

I am a Dutch music journalist, specializing in contemporary music, and a champion of women composers. In 2014 I wrote the biography of Reinbert de Leeuw (3rd edition in 2020) and in 2018 I published 'Een os op het dak: moderne muziek na 1900 in vogelvlucht'.
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10 Responses to Karina Canellakis on women in music: ‘Just go ahead & do it!’

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  9. theaderks says:

    Thanks! Very good news, indeed. Today it was announced Elim Chan was appointed chief conductor of the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra. – The dam’s been broken 🙂


  10. This is great Thea!
    All of the best
    Victoria Jordanova


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