It’s nothing new these days to observe the incredible whiteness and maleness of the orchestral world and to bemoan the slow pace of change. Much of those complaints have justifiably been about repertoire. What to put on a concert program is one of the central decisions, and orchestras seem unnecessarily fixated on the same dozen or so dead white men, even as it’s become clearer that there is plenty of fantastic music out there by other people. The scorn heaped at orchestras who exclude women, people of color, and other voices from their programming is much deserved.
Less commented upon is the question of who is doing the performing and who is leading the orchestra. The ranks of conductors are still largely white and male, though that, too, is starting to change. Refreshingly, the North Carolina Symphony has been near the forefront on both counts, programming six works by women and featuring two women conductors this season. It’s still an indictment of the whole system that such low numbers count as progress, showing just how much work is still left to be done. But progress is progress.
This weekend’s performances—Friday and Saturday at Meymandi Concert Hall—feature one of those two conductors, Karina Canellakis, leading a fairly traditional concert of Mozart and Shostakovich symphonies. Originally an acclaimed violinist, Canellakis began conducting in earnest within the past decade, earning praise for a last-minute fill-in for Jaap von Zweden in Dallas in 2014. Since then, she won the Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award in 2016 and was just named Chief Conductor of the Nederlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. Needless to say, her star is rising.
This is her third time leading the North Carolina Symphony in the past five years, and it’s clear that she brings out something special from the orchestra. With current Musical Director Grant Llewellyn stepping down as full-time director in 2020, the Symphony would do well to consider her for a more permanent gig.