Few musicians manage to achieve in a lifetime what siblings Nicholas and Karina Canellakis have accomplished before their 40th birthdays. Nick, 32, a cellist, recently had a debut performance at Carnegie Hall with the American Symphony Orchestra; he is also an artist with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Karina, a 35-year-old violinist-turned-conductor, is a rising star as well. She just came off a stint conducting the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and was the 2016 winner of the Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award. And now Hudson Valley residents have the opportunity to see them both: on February 18, the talented siblings are performing with the Albany Symphony.
Nick and Karina were born and raised in New York City. Their parents, classical musicians who met at The Juilliard School, provided the kind of exposure that allowed their children’s musical talents to grow organically. “My dad went on to become a conductor, and my mom was a concert pianist and still teaches piano. We really grew up with music; we were surrounded by it,” says Nick. “We went to my dad’s orchestra concerts from the time we were babies. Yet our parents never really pushed us. They were encouraging, of course, but they never forced us in any way. It was very natural.”
One might expect a certain amount of sibling rivalry, but this was not the case, according to Nick. “We weren’t competitive. In fact, I think she was very supportive. We played different instruments, so I think that helped. There was also a bit of an age gap, which helped a bit because we were always on different planes, or at different points in our development. And I think the support went both ways for the two of us. We always encouraged one another and wished each other every success.”
They had many opportunities to choose from the full orchestra when it came to finding the instrument that suited each of them. “We were exposed to the whole gamut of musical instruments growing up and going to my father’s concerts,” Nick says. “So we had access to all of these different instruments. More specifically, each of our stories are very similar to other string players, in that Karina saw Itzhak Perlman on, I think, Sesame Street, and I saw Yo-Yo Ma on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
The performance on February 18 will also mark a personal milestone for Nick and Karina. “I’m really looking forward to playing under my sister’s baton, which I have never done before,” Nick says. “This will be the primary exciting thing for Karina and I. I’m certainly very excited about playing with the Albany Symphony — I’ve heard that they’re a wonderful, wonderful orchestra.”
The program includes Brahms’s 4th Symphony and a modern piece by composer Jennifer Higdon entitled Dance Cards. Nick, though, will be performing Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, along with violinist Elena Urioste and pianist Michael Brown. “It’s the only standard concerto for piano, violin, cello, and orchestra. It’s in the tradition of the concertante style of the Baroque period where you would have several soloists with an orchestra. It has a notoriously difficult cello part that is certainly equal in difficulty to any of the great cello concertos. It’s just a phenomenal piece of music.”