Susanna Mälkki began her musical career as principal cellist with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra before studying conducting with Jorma Panula and Leif Segerstam in Helsinki. She has been the “prima donna” in the most literal sense of the term: first female head of the Ensemble intercontemporain, first woman to head up an orchestra at La Scala in Milan, and first chief conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic, which she has led since 2016.
Together with the scholarship students of the Karajan Academy of the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Finnish conductor will present Olga Neuwirth’s “Ballet mécanomorphe” Aello, composed with a direct connection to Bach’s Fourth Brandenburg Concerto: it was commissioned by the London Proms, which in their Brandenburg Project 2018commissioned six composers to compose a musical “answer” to Bach’s famous collection of concertos. A sentence from the scandalous Parisian author Colette – “Sometimes Bach sounds like a celestial sewing machine” – inspired Neuwirth to use a typewriter, in addition to a synthesizer harpsichord with Baroque tuning; the flute (played by Emmanuel Pahud) provides, in the composer’s words, the “divine and heavenly” timbres.
After this sonorous dance between typewriter and flute full of Baroque-style phrases and Bach quotations, the programme continues with Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil by the French spectralist Gérard Grisey with soprano Juliet Fraser. The work is a lyrical tombeau revolving around death, based on text fragments from the Christian, Egyptian, Greek and Mesopotamian cultures. The end of the piece is a lyrical swansong that stands “not for falling asleep, but for the awakening” (Grisey).