What a nice work week!

Karina Canellakis is finally on the rostrum for us, the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. The very first programme led by our brand new chief in the NTR Saturday Afternoon of 12 October will feature Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony, Sebastian Currier's Violin Concerto Aether and Beethoven's Overture Egmont . For five days, we will enjoy each other's company and prepare an unforgettable concert together. After all the media attention, photo sessions and speeches surrounding her appointment, we are looking forward to working together and to the music. Karina wastes no time, allows no journalists during rehearsals and gets into the details from the very first minute. 

A report by Ewa Maria Wagner (photos Marco Borggreve and Eduardus Lee)


Blonde hair in a ponytail, black T-shirt falling loosely over her jeans and a spark in her eye, she has not changed a bit. After a brief expression of joy, she immediately starts with the first movement of Shostakovich. The sombre sounds of the opening bars are at odds with our mood. But we follow her, expectant and a little too happy for this music.

I still think of Beethoven's Seventh a year ago, of her transparent approach and of the energy that lifted the orchestra to a higher level then. Will she enchant us as well this week?

Karina now focuses on the volume of the swelling chords; with her gestures she speaks a clear language. The sound has to be richer, deeper, warmer but not louder. The strings seek out the horns, we listen to each other, which translates into a subdued, homogeneous sound. Karina's eyes close contentedly.

Everything she says is about sound,' says bassoonist Jos Lammerse during the break, 'it's good that she immediately starts building up the sound. It strikes me how quiet the orchestra is during the rehearsal; we are concentrated, which is nice to work with. Does it bother me that she is a woman? Not at all, that's not even relevant, because what matters to me is how she makes music with us and that we are on the same level. She communicates fantastic, my feeling is that we have the same goal in music.

Karina Canellalis - photo7 Marco Borggreve
Carina Kannelakis for Radio Philharmonic Orchestra exclusively
Photo: Marco Borggreve


Today, during rehearsal, school children are sitting behind the stage. Our first audience. Karina nods to them but her attention quickly turns to the fourth movement of Shostakovich's symphony. A frown on her forehead, hands up and the music dominates everything. She has a vision that she is now working out with us, but she is not easily satisfied. Everything is secret,' she says and puts her index finger to her lips. The coin drops, together we search for the secret in the course of the melodies and in the changing of the chords. The expression on her face leads us, her hands give the emotion a rhythm. We are in the music and from many musicians we become a pulsating organism. She smiles and lets us play. The time with her passes quickly. Too quickly. At whichever table I sit with my cup of coffee during the break, the conversations are about Karina and her way of working.

It's not just her hands, she conducts with her whole body, her facial expressions are great," says horn player Petra Botma. I also like the fact that she appoints exactly how we play and how she wants it to sound, you know immediately what she wants or doesn't want. It may be a bit American, but it works. I like her conducting style, she is such a beautiful woman to look at,' Petra laughs, 'but her self-confidence radiates off to us, she is also assertive and decisive in a pleasant way, without coming across as masculine. A real leader!


Today Karina spends more time on the Egmont Overture. I want the sound to pop out and go straight up. The eights have to be more crispy,' she says and her eyes sparkle. The strings are on the edge of their seats, the horns are motionless. Karina bends forward as if she wants to touch the sound. She moves forward, we don't always start at the same time. Concentration has to improve, we start again and again. But as soon as we succeed, we feel a release of energy. The notes have to sound even tighter together, she says, and the rhythm more precise. Together with my group, I briefly stroke the strings; ten violas sound like one man. Karina is radiant and remarks that Beethoven and Shostakovich were rebellious men, 'we may show it in his music!

When Eveline Kraayenhof packs up her cello after rehearsal, she is enthusiastic. She takes you with her, that's great playing,' she says. You just feel that she is an orchestral musician. As a violinist she has worked in top orchestras, she knows exactly how and what to do. It's amazing how easily she communicates with us. A powerful woman, you wouldn't think so if you saw her small stature, would you?

Karina Canellakis - Photo64 Eduardus Lee
Karina Canellakis - Eduardus Lee


Today is the last day before the concert. Karina wants to play through and make corrections immediately after each piece. We have just finished a run through of the Tenth Symphony by Shostakovich. In the break, trumpeter Hessel Buma and tuba player Bernard Beniers are having coffee together.

Karina has a lot of drive, this is really 'her' Shostakovich. We once played the piece with Gergiev, that was a military exercise. With Karina, this symphony sounds more romantic.

Do you like it or not?" I ask.

She has a clear stroke, I like the way she handles it," says Hessel.

I remain cautious,' Bernard laughs, 'it's very personal, but I find it exciting how she looks at music. Her passion, the perfection, the zeal - all that sometimes reminds me of Jaap van Zweden. She rehearses very well and that is very nice in any generation.

In the hall, I ask cellist Sebastiaan van Eck how he experiences Shostakovich. He has to think for a moment. Characteristic of her is her attention to detail, which is to her credit. And she has her own vision of everything she conducts,' he laughs shyly.

Is there a 'but'?" I ask.

Not really, it's very personal, I miss a bit of the loneliness in Shostakovich's music. Rubato means freedom, she might be a bit more careful with that. But she fascinates me enormously, let that be clear. I also think that our chief conductor belongs to a young generation and that always brings a fresh perspective on our classical views.'


We are sitting on the stage in the Concertgebouw, the pre-rehearsal is over. In one hour, the NTR Saturday Matinee will start. Karina thanks us for this special week. We feel her energy and share the anticipation. Her energy comes across to us. We all feel that a lot depends on this: what will be the first impression on our loyal audience?

But first we have lunch. Even while eating in the canteen under the stage, I hear people talking about last week. Nothing but praise.

In everything she does, she convinces,' cellist Mirjam Bosma tells me. She doesn't act friendly, she is like that. She doesn't just conduct, she makes music and that is her great strength. She doesn't pretend, she is just like that.

You could say she is the music, I think for myself.

Watch the inauguration concert back here on YouTube

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