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Karina Canellakis conducts unrehearsed Tchaikovsky after OSM soloist Daniil Trifonov suddenly falls ill

A stressful debut for the star conductor, but the show must go on.

A stressful debut for the star conductor, but the show must go on

Conductor Karina Canellakis made her debut with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal under unusual circumstances on May 15, 2019, when piano soloist Daniil Trifonov was suddenly indisposed. (Chris Christodoulou)

As far as debuts go, this one was more stressful than usual for conductor Karina Canellakis.

In one of the most anticipated concerts of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal's season, she was making her OSM debut on May 15 with a program comprising orchestral excerpts from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde as well as Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra in the first half, and after intermission, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 with Russian piano phenom Daniil Trifonov as soloist.

But things did not go exactly as planned. OSM double bassist Scott Feltham posted the following account on Facebook after the concert:

"Daniil Trifonov, tonight's scheduled piano soloist, became suddenly ill just before the beginning of the concert and had to be taken to the hospital.... Instead, Madeleine Careau, our CEO, announced Trifonov's illness and the resulting change in program. We performed Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony. Cold. No rehearsing. In front of 2,000 ish people. Bravo to all my colleagues. Bravo especially to maestra Karina Canellakis, conducting us for the first time. Time for a beer."

The Times of London calls Daniil Trifonov 'without question the most astounding pianist of our age.' (Dario Acosta)

Feltham told CBC Music that the OSM last played Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 two years ago. His stand partner in the double bass section had only played the work once before. For violist Marina Thibeault, it was a first.

Canellakis, who's chief conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and principal guest conductor of the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, conducted Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 on Dec. 8, 2018, at the Nobel Prize Concert in Stockholm, but not since then. 

Feltham explained that the members of the orchestra were informed about the last-minute change by the OSM's personnel manager Jean Gaudreault at 8:02 p.m., when they were already onstage. "Jean walks out with this funny half smile on his face and starts talking to the principal strings, telling them to spread the news. [OSM librarian] Michel Leonard was following him with the parts and had them all handed out before the downbeat for the Wagner at 8:10."

The audience was informed by Careau following intermission. "About 30 or 40 people left either immediately or after the first movement," says Feltham. But those who stayed enjoyed an exciting performance, by all accounts.

"It's hard to find the right way to say this," reflects Feltham, "but, there just aren't that many groups of musicians anywhere in the world that have the competence and collective courage to do what we did last night. Super proud."

Update: In a statement, the OSM has announced that Trifonov has recovered and will perform Rachmaninoff's Piano Concert No. 3 at two further performances on May 16 and 17.