Late on a Friday night, just weeks after starting her new role as Assistant Conductor at Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Karina Canellakis got a call to say that the orchestra’s Music Director Jaap van Zwedenwas stepping down from the following day’s concert due to a shoulder injury. In 24 hours the young conductor would have to take his place and lead the orchestra in Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony without a single rehearsal.

Karina Canellakis Karina Canellakis. Photo © Mathias Bothor

As Assistant Conductor it’s your job to step in if the conductor is indisposed, and you prepare accordingly, Canellakis tells me, but it’s a very different feeling when it actually happens. “You spend a lot of time sitting there where everybody is just fine and nobody gets sick – and then if it happens that you actually have to step in, it’s such a moment of fight or flight,” she says. “It was a big turning point for me, because it was the first time that I had ever conducted anything that massive, or anything that requires that kind of mental and emotional pacing. The Eighth Symphony in particular...