Audience:   Have you had the idea before of becoming a conductor during your violin years? How did this [switch to conducting] occur?   I’m very happy you did, {audience laughter} but I was just curious as to how conducting came about for you.

Canellakis: That’s a really hard question to answer!

When I was little I wanted to be like Hilary Hahn.   I really was all about the violin for a long time. But maybe the simple answer is that I always wanted to be a conductor but didn’t know it or didn’t have the audacity to think that I could actually do it. You know it takes a certain amount of confidence and it took me a while to be able to accumulate enough knowledge and experience that I felt I deserved to stand up there. I needed to go through what I went through as a violinist in order to feel that I had a right to be up there.   Then I felt at home with it after awhile and it’s now completely taken over my life.   By the way, I don’t have time to practice the violin… but I still try!


Audience:   This is more of a personal question: When you are conducting, I admire you so much.   What does it feel like, as I want to be there with you, what is the feeling?

Canellakis:   When I’m conducting?   I’m not really feeeeeling annnything per se… I’m actually just listening. That’s the main thing that I’m doing. That’s what conductors do since you are not actually making any sound which can be very unnerving when you first start conducting after you’ve been playing an instrument all your life and all of sudden you are just standing there without your instrument and you kinda go

  {flaps hands around comically}

{Audience laughs}

…and then something is suppose to come out. You have to listen very very carefully to what is coming out and just react to it. If the sound is like a ball of smoke you have to {imitates sculpting imaginary ball of smoke} keep it together. That is what I’m doing.   You have to keep atleast 20 percent of your brain in a very rational state when you are out there. Same thing when you are a pianist, or violinist or anything you can’t let yourself completely be taken away by the music the way it would be if you are lying in your bedroom listening to a CD.   You can’t do that. When I conduct Mahlers 9th Symphony, I can’t break down in the last page in front of the orchestra and start weeping. When I study it, I’d start crying, just from looking at the page, I’d start crying.   But when in front of the orchestra, you are responsible for them and they are trusting you and they need you.