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Classical with a sense of humor

Howard County Times

You can expect a lively performance when the Canellakis-Brown Duo opens the Candlelight Concert Society’s 2018- 2019 season on Sunday, Sept. 30 at 3 p.m. in Howard Community College's Smith Theatre.

Cellist Nicholas Canellakis and pianist-composer Michael Brown have the ability to connect with audiences as well as with the varied repertory they play.

“I think they’re part of the new direction we’re taking with having more young, vibrant, creative artists,” said Irina Kaplan Lande, Candlelight artistic director. “They are not typical conservative musicians who come out on stage, play, take a bow and are gone. They are very engaging with audiences, and narrate their performances with a sense of humor as part of the whole experience.”

That sort of engagement certainly applies to Brown’s work as a composer, which includes pieces written for the duo. The upcoming Columbia performance includes “Prelude and Dance,” which Brown composed in 2014 and revised in 2017.

Lande noted that the duo’s inclusion of such pieces attests to how it wants audiences to “share in the creative process.”

For his part as the composer of “Prelude and Dance,” Brown explained that it “is the fourth work I composed for my duo with cellist Nicholas Canellakis. He and I have been friends and musical colleagues for a decade and have played all sorts of repertoire together. It’s thrilling to write for a performer who in many ways understands my music better than myself. He has witnessed my style as both a performer and composer transform over time, and his input has been invaluable throughout the compositional process.”

Brown, who is the composer-in-residence with the New Haven Symphony, added that he and Canellakis like to combine American and European works from the standard repertory with their own compositions and arrangements.

The Candlelight program exemplifies those goals. It includes three 19th-century European works that richly embody the romantic tradition: Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise Brilliante in C Major, Op. 3; the same composer’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in g minor, Op. 65; and Grieg’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in a minor, Op. 36. As for 20th-century American music that is lushly romantic, Gershwin’s Three Preludes has been arranged by Canellakis for cello and piano. And, of course, Brown’s own “Prelude and Dance” takes us into the 21st century.

Their versatility as musicians is the result of first-rate educations. Canellakis studied at the Curtis Institute of Music and the New England Conservatory; and Brown studied at The Juilliard School.

As performers, both are affiliated with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. This encompasses performances both in Alice Tully Hall in New York City and also on tour. The duo has appeared at numerous music festivals including Santa Fe, Ravinia and Saratoga Springs. This fall has the duo appearing everywhere from Billings, Montana to Bedford, New York. In addition to working together as a duo, both are also active as solo performers.

Audiences clearly have many opportunities to connect with them in live performance, but people can also check them out on their debut duo album titled “Out of Darkness.” In keeping with their eclectic approach to repertory, this album includes a composition by Michael Brown, “Five A.M., after Allen Ginsberg”; 20th-century standards by Barber and Shostakovich; and even some Bulgarian folk tunes.

And in our media-saturated society, it seems fitting that Canellakis is also a filmmaker and actor. He and Brown co-produce and co-star in a comedy web series, “Conversations with Nick Canellakis,” in which they poke fun at the classical music world. These satirical videos are yet another way of showing that classical music is not uptight and can laugh at itself.

The Canellakis-Brown Duo performs on Sunday, Sept. 30 at 3 p.m. in Howard Community College’s Smith Theatre, 10901 Little Patuxent Pkwy in Columbia. For ticket info, call 410-997-2324 or go to

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