From Greece to the Sibelius Academy - Conductor Kornilios Michailidis wanted to become an aeronautical engineer at first

Greek-born Kornilios Michailidis (b. 1989) will conduct the Sibelius Academy Symphony Orchestra at the Helsinki Music Centre Concert Hall on the 29th of September. At the concert, we will hear the repertoire of beloved French composers. 

Kornilios Michailidis, who is finishing his master's degree at the Sibelius Academy, is a thoroughbred classical musician by his family history. Starting from his grandmother, a beloved student of the legendary French pianist Alfred Cortot, his mother Natalia Michailidou is a concert pianist and his father, Vangelis Christopoulos, has made his 40-year career as the solo oboist of the Athens State Orchestra. Michailidis' older brother, Vassilis Christopoulos, is Professor of conducting at the Frankfurt Academy of Music and Performing Arts.

As a child, Kornilios was not interested in the career of a musician, because he preferred to enjoy different activities such as sailing and biking. However, his parents encouraged him to practice for his own benefit. They promised that at the age of 15, he could decide whether to stop or continue with music. Kornilios started his music schooling at the age of 5 with piano, but changed his main instrument to violin at the age of 7.

– I was so impressed by the violin, because at the time, my mother practiced and played regularly with Leonidas Kavakos, from the time he won the Sibelius Violin Competition in 1985, Michailidis says.

Kornilios was also greatly interested in flying. At the age of 13, his enthusiasm led him to private theoretical classes, combined with intense simulator training with professional pilots. At the age of 17, he already obtained his private pilot license.

– I was quite sure then that I would become a pilot or an aeronautical engineer. I regarded music as a hobby. At the age of 17, my opinion changed after my high school orchestra asked me to join their project as a solo pianist. Suddenly, rehearsing, performing and all the other things related to making music felt right.

The choice was quickly made: he took the decision to focus on music.

To the Sibelius Academy by recommendation of Jorma Panula

Kornilios Michailidis moved from Greece to study with David Lively at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris in 2009, with piano as his major subject. Thereafter he spent a four-year period in the United States, at the Jacobs School of Music of Indiana University Bloomington. During that period, he also studied orchestra and choir conducting. In 2014, he returned to Greece staying there for a few months, focusing on his work as a piano soloist, performing with the Athens State Orchestra.

In the same year, he ended up in the Czech Republic where he attended a conducting master class taught by legendary emeritus professor Jorma Panula. Panula recommended the promising conductor for master studies at the Sibelius Academy, and eventually wrote a letter of recommendation for him.

– It was strange, I didn’t know anything about the Sibelius Academy before Jorma Panula. However, I got acquainted with the Sibelius Academy's conductor training for a couple of days in mid-November 2014. I got to see how Atso Almila and Hannu Lintu taught future conductors with the Sibelius Academy's own conductor orchestra. The open atmosphere and the teaching philosophy of the Sibelius Academy impressed me: the students were given tools, but they were allowed to develop in the direction they wanted.

Michailidis was also fond of the great Helsinki Music Centre. He saw how the students worked and studied in the same building with professional orchestras, the Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. 

– There was simply no other place to study in the world I could’ve applied to after what I had experienced. I realized that if I studied at the Sibelius Academy, the successful path as a conductor would be almost guaranteed.

Kornilios Michailidis passed the entrance examination and was the only candidate accepted to study in the Master’s program in 2015.  Conducting studies at the Sibelius Academy have traditionally been behind a tight screen: the same year, only two students were selected for the Bachelor's degree studies.

Contacts for working life from Finland

After his graduation, Kornilios Michailidis, who is also fond of Finnish nature and the honest mentality of Finns, is planning to spend half of the year in Finland and half abroad. In Finland he is going to spend time with his project and community of Beethoven Now!, which started in 2015 in collaboration with Jaan Ots. According to its name, the project focuses on Beethoven's rich work and brings it into the light of the present.  He is also the artistic director of the Koufonisia Classical Festival, in which he is co-founder.

As he explains, his life in Finland has led him to several interesting artistic encounters which are of inestimable value for the future. 

– The most important projects during my studies have been assisting Hannu Lintu in the Radio Symphony Orchestra. Following that, a series of opportunities arose for his work as an assistant conductor, which led him to interesting collaborations, such as working for the Opera of Paris or assisting Mikko Franck in the French Radio Philharmonic Orchestra.

Regarding the concert at the end of September, Michailidis also got an influence for the French theme from Hannu Lintu.

– I got acquainted with Maurice Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé series for the first time when I worked on the piece with Hannu Lintu during our class sessions. I was so excited about the music that I wanted it to be part of my future graduation concert. The Sibelius Academy allowed me to make my vision of a French-themed concert come true.

After his graduation, Michailidis plans to travel to Italy for a few months to study Italian and the Italian culture.

– Self-development is important throughout life. I think I will also acquire the professional pilot license in the future, and, maybe one day, acquire an airplane of my own. But conducting always comes first. 

Afternoon of a Faun – Sibelius Academy Symphony Orchestra, cond. Kornilios Michailidis
Saturday the 29th of Sept. at 4.00 pm
Concert Hall, Helsinki Music Centre
Tickets from 22,50 € (Ticketmaster) Buy ticket
Sibelius Academy Symphony Orchestra
Kornilios Michailidis, conductor
Gustav Schantz, piano
Somnium Ensemble
Hämäläis-Osakunnan Laulajat (HOL)
Kamarikuoro Kaamos
Debussy: Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Poulenc: Sinfonietta
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G major
Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé, Suite no. 2


Text: Johanna Laitinen