Susanne Mälkki © Simon Fowler
She is a first-rate connoisseur of the orchestral and operatic repertoire of the 20th century and an ardent advocate for new contemporary music, not just from her native Finland. As part of her featured portrait series in the Wiener Konzerthaus, Susanna Mälkki will conduct three different orchestras in late Romantic and modern works, as well as a world premiere.
Her early career as a cellist took Susanna Mälkki to Sweden, where she was solo cellist in the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra between 1995 and 1998. At the same time, she began studying to be a conductor at the Sibelius-Academy in Helsinki in 1995. And after making her conducting debut with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in 1999, she decided to swap the cello bow for the conductor’s baton permanently. After working as guest conductor in Oslo, London, Frankfurt, Tokyo and Beijing, as well as artistic director of Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, she was chief conductor of Pierre Boulez’ Ensemble intercontemporain between 2006 and 2012.
In the opening concert of her featured portrait series, Susanna Mälkki will direct the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, whose chief conductor she has been since 2016. And they will perform Lotta Wennäkoski’s «Flounce» Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and Sibelius’ Second Symphony. Her passionate relationship with the music of her compatriot, the value of which cannot be overestimated for her own work, is described by Mälkki in a short text «My Sibelius». Here she points out that the perpetual change that characterizes Sibelius’s entire symphonic output is the only real constant dimension in his music. For the programme that Mälkki is rehearsing with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, she contrasts the old with the new: Alongside the «Karfreitagszauber» or Good Friday Music from Richard Wagner’s «Parsifal» und Richard Strauss’ tone poem, «Also sprach Zarathustra», which takes its name from a work by Friedrich Nietzsche, Mälkki will conduct the world premiere of a new Piano Concerto by the Swiss composer, Dieter Ammann. As part of the new format «Im Klang», the audience will have the opportunity to hear another performance of «Also sprach Zarathustra» from seats within the orchestra itself. In June, Mälkki returns to Vienna with works by Alexander Zemlinsky and Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra on the programme with the RSO Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra in the Main Hall of the Wiener Konzerthaus – a worthy way to end the featured portrait series.
With her much-praised talent for teasing out even the most hidden details from an orchestral score and making them clearly audible, Susanna Mälkki communicates an experience that is genuinely human, made possible via music, independent of the time and place where a piece was written. To use Mälkki’s own words, every successful piece of music is «something personal that becomes universal».