Trifonov falls sick in concert. Conductor thinks fast

Trifonov falls sick in concert. Conductor thinks fast


norman lebrecht

May 16, 2019

Conductor Karina Canellakis was making her debut with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal last night when she was told just before the concert that piano soloist Daniil Trifonov had fallen ill and been taken to hospital.

The programme was Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde excerts and Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra in the first half, with Trifonov in Rachmaninov’s 3rd piano concerto after the break.

Here’s how it ended, according to a post from double-bass Scott Feltham:

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.



  • PHF says:

    She played a dangerous game there…

    • Karl says:

      I can think of worse. How about asking if anyone in the audience can play piano?

    • Emil says:

      Montreal is in the middle of a search for its new MD, and Canellakis has been mentioned (by Christophe Huss, who follows the process closely) as one of the possible candidates. Pulling off a decent performance at such short notice can only have gained her points.
      Also, I might mention that, by all accounts, the music librarian of the Orchestra (Michel Léonard) is a pro, to get all the parts sorted in whatever short notice he had.

      • Karl says:

        I really like Vassily Petrenko, but Canellakis would also get my vote to be new MD. I’ve seen her several times with different orchestras – Albany and VT. I remember her with the Hartford Symphony, but I think that was as a violin soloist. I wonder if she could fill in when a violinist falls ill.

        • Yes, Karl, with me and the Hartford Symphony in 2010, Karina played the Saint-Saëns Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, and an Ives Violin concerto I wrote for her, arranged from movements of the four violin sonatas. She did the Sibelius concerto with me in Pittsburgh in ’97, when she was a teenager.

      • Edgar says:

        I appreciate you mentioning the orchestra librarian. More than often, orchestra librarians are the true heroes saving concerts. Just as prompters are in shepherding those on stage through a long night – I am reminded of Richard Strauss’ Monsieur Taupe, in “Cappriccio”: “…wenn ich schlafe, werde ich zum Ereignis…” [when I sleep, I become the event].

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Not at all. An orchestra of that caliber would have little or no trouble playing Tchaik. 4 ‘on the fly’ like that. I’ve played in several good performances of it with community orchestras with one or no rehearsal as well. Sure, it could be exhausting for the players, particularly after the Lutoslwaski. But that’s the sort of thing that galvanizes everyone.

  • Ed says:

    Bravo Karina Canellakis!

  • Musician says:

    Gergiev does that daily and sometimes it’s even good.

  • Paul Lefebvre says:

    I was there. Of course, it was not the best Tchaïkovsky’s Fourth, but nevertheless an outstanding moment of moving and thrilling music making, an unforgattable act of artistic generosity.

  • Karen says:

    It seems as the end of season draws near a lot of pianists have fallen ill lately. I wish them speedy recoveries!

  • drummerman says:

    Not to take anything away from those concerned but was the Tchaikovsky chosen because the orchestra had played it recently?

  • Bill Gross says:

    She was JVS understudy at Dallas. She was called on to take on a concert series with less the 24 hours notice. Did a great job then.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    Andre Previn (may be rest in peace), would have just moved the piano 90 degress and played / conducted Rhapsody in Blue or Mendelssohn 1st concerto with no rehearsal and no stress.

    (I’m already missing AP, in the same way I do Bernstein, Karajan and Menuhin)

  • Karl says:

    I’m going tonight. I wonder what’s on the program. Glad I went to Boston last month to hear Trifonov play the Rachmaninoff 3rd.

    • Edgar says:

      I heard Trifonov here in Boston as well. The audience nearly went through the roof of Symphony Hall. Memorable.

  • Karl says:

    The OSM website says he has recovered and will be there tonight.

  • MacroV says:

    Can anybody be surprised? Every orchestra musician – and every conductor – knows Tchaikovsky 4. Sure, a little rehearsal would never hurt, but a top-class orchestra like the OSM and a capable conductor can certainly pull it off.

  • Caravaggio says:


  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    Sometimes fear is a good thing and makes for an exciting concert.

  • Stickles says:

    When Canellakis was assistant at Dallas, Jaap called in sick just before Shostakovich 8. She was tasked to step in without a rehearsal with the orchestra. At least the orchestra was prepared for the music. I also wonder when something like happen, how do they decide which piece to play? Does the conductor have the final say? Something like beethoven 7 or brahms 2 would be easier on the orchestra, but they chose Tchaikovsky for the Russian connection.

    • Scott Feltham says:

      I think you’ve put your finger right on the exceptional nature of what happened Wednesday night: the orchestra wasn’t prepared for the music.

      It’s not unheard of for a conductor to step in as a last-minute replacement and lead a previously-rehearsed concert. It’s not even unheard of for a soloist to sub in on 24 hours’ notice (I remember a concert in the early 90s when I was still at school where Julia Varady was supposed to sing Strauss’ Four Last Songs. She rehearsed with the OSM, but woke up the day of the concert indisposed. Even so, there was time to find a soprano who had sung it recently, who was of a similar artistic class and who was available and willing (!!!) to fly in and sing at the last minute. I forget her name (Camilla Johnson?), but I attended that concert and it was great.)

      But what happens only once in many years is what happened Wednesday. The soloist left the hall minutes before the concert was to start, and all the stakeholders agreed in a very short amount of time that the right thing to do was offer the assembled audience a complete concert. You’re right about maintaining the Russian connection – the other option was Firebird – but, honestly, Tchaikovsky is just the right kind of music for a sight-reading party.

      All that was missing was the champagne!

  • Nick2 says:

    I once had the pianist Ilana Vered cancel her second performance of a Mozart concerto at 2 hours notice. As her husband was a neurosurgeon, she was clearly ill. After a meeting with the MD and the concertmaster, the latter generously agreed to play a Mozart violin concerto but the orchestra had not scheduled it for about 5 years under a different conductor. It was too late to inform the musicians. So we agreed to change the order of the programme and perform the overture and symphony in the first half. This gave some time before and during the intermission for the orchestral parts to be located and the conductor and concertmaster to brief the principals on major issues like tempi and dynamics. The end result was pretty much a triumph which the audience greatly appreciated.

  • RW2013 says:

    I’d rather know how Trifonov is doing.

  • fflambeau says:

    Well done. “The show must go on”…. . (Even in unplanned ways.)

    Being a concert level pianist must be trying both physically and psychologically.

  • Nick says:

    Bravo Karina Canellakis. Audiences did not lose anything, but only won! Trifonov’s appearance in Rach. 3 would make for a minimal impression. Tchaikovsky’s Fourth with the young maestra is a much more rewarding artistic experience. Good health to Mr. Trifonov regardless!

  • anonymous says:

    the orchestra doesn’t have a pianist?

  • Laura says:

    That poor piccolo player. One of the most notorious picc solos in the repertoire and he/she had no prep time. Yes, all piccoloists know it well, but to have to play it cold would be terrifying to anyone.

    • Scott Feltham says:

      That was exactly the first lick I heard anyone practicing after the word was passed. And she did great!

  • NYMike says:

    Having heard KC conduct Orchestre de Paris’ final concert of its season 6/18 @ the Philharmonie, I posit that she’s one BIG talent. The orchestre and audience gave her five curtain calls after Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Danses ending the concert.

  • I’m reminded of a story I was told about Solti. He had used up his rehearsal time and hadn’t touched the Brahms symphony that was on the program.

    “You all know this one, ” he said, “watch me closely and we’ll be fine.”

    “But Maestro,” cried one of the younger players, “I’ve never played this symphony before!”

    “You’ll love it!” Solti replies.

  • Pauker says:

    I’m surprised anyone having reached an orchestra of that level hadn’t played Tchaik 4 before.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      It was only some of the tutti players, and a young musician in their first job could well have not played it before.

  • Cefranck says:

    Seriously? They played the Tchaikovsky 4th cold without rehearsal; a piece they could play in their sleep? And this is supposed to be a conducting coup de musique? C’mon!

  • I have to chuckle at the comments. What they did is exactly what a first class orchestra does in concert. The audience deserves a full evening’s performance, and that is what the Karina Canellakis and the MSO management gave them. What is worth mentioning is the particular work which was chosen to be substituted — it was an intelligent choice. And now, if you will kindly reflect on it, you know the playing standard of the first rehearsal a new conductor gets from the Montreal Symphony. I wish Maestra Canellakis well.