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Lansing Symphony Welcomes Cellist and Funny Filmmaker

Jamie Paisley
Cellist Nicholas Canellakis and Lansing Symphony Maestro Timothy Muffitt iron out details of Schumann's Cello Concerto

The Lansing Symphony welcomes a guest cellist this Saturday to the Wharton Center and WKAR’s Jamie Paisley spoke with the artist who also likes to dabble in funny filmmaking: Nicholas Canellakis.

Most notably, nowadays at least, he’s a member of the famous Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center roster of musicians. This Saturday, however, Nicholas Canellakis will perform Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto with the Lansing Symphony. Part of a program which includes Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.6, "Pathetique," and a work called "Visions and Miracles" by Christopher Theofanidis. But to Canellakis, whatever Concerto or showpiece he’s playing is an isolated moment for him, and in this case, the Lansing Symphony with Maestro Timothy Muffitt.

"I think that's sort of the job of Tim, as a conductor," says Canellakis, "and what he presents to the audience how the full concert and the selection of pieces marry into one another. But I wouldn't say that I would change anything about my approach to the concerto based on the pieces that are around it. That being said, I think that the Tchaikovsky and the Schumann are a wonderful pair because they're both such difference composers. One, Tchaikovsky, has this extroverted Romanticiscm and everything is sort of larger-than-life, and Schumann, it's almost like the flip-side of the same coin. It's extremely introverted, it's extremely intimate, but it's the same kind of hyper-expressiveness.

[Audio of Canellakis and the Lansing Symphony rehearsing the Schumann Cello Concerto.]

Canellakis is not just a cellist, he’s a budding filmmaker as well, and even had a well-received video series a few years ago called “Conversations with Nick Canellakis” where he and fellow Lincoln Center-ite Michael Brown do tongue-in-cheek interviews with classical music superstars like Itzhak Perlman, Yuja Wang, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, and in one video, Leon Fleisher falls asleep mid-interview. All joking, of course.

[Snippet from Leon Fleischer's episode of "Conversations with Nick Canellakis"]

"Fleischer brought a lot to it," he recalls, "and that was 100% his idea and improvised. We did not ask him to do anything. In fact, we almost never ask our guest to do anything, it's all - I plan some things out, but I really want to get a real reaction from them."

But as to whether this is about deflating the classical music stereotype, or even the haughtiness of classical music itself…

"I love that there is that interpretation of the show and that people take whatever they want from it. You know, my original intention is that I just love filmmaking, and I love comedy, and that's always been an important sort of extra passion in my life. And my real intention was to make funny videos. I wanted to make -- having them be funny was the number 1 thing, more than making any kind of statement."

With the hope that he doesn’t pull a Leon Fleischer and fall asleep in the middle of it, Cellist Nicholas Canellakis takes center stage at the Wharton Center this Saturday night playing the Schumann Cello Concerto alongside Christopher Theofanidis’ Visions and Miracles as well as Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony, “Pathetique." All part of the Maestro Timothy Muffitt and the Lansing Symphony’s penultimate Masterworks Concert of the season.
Tickets and more information at LansingSymphony.org

The Lansing Symphony is an underwriter of WKAR.

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