A beautiful give and take
Portrait: The conductor Susanna Mälkki
Susanna Mälkki is one of the leading figures of her craft. She delights with her clear, precise baton technique, her delicate sense of sound and her passionate dedication to the work being performed. Since her debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2008, we have come to know her as a specialist in Modernism and Contemporary music as well as the music of Jean Sibelius and Béla Bartók in her performances with the orchestra and the Karajan Academy. The works of Kaija Saariaho also occupy an important position in her repertoire.
She came to her profession as a conductor in a roundabout way, as Susanna Mälkki originally wanted to be a cellist. During her instrumental studies at the Sibelius Academy in her home town of Helsinki, she also played in the orchestra of the conducting class and discovered her interest in orchestral conducting. She was fascinated by what was taught in the conducting class. This was extremely interesting and I of course was analysing as well. I thing the bang came from there", as she says in an interview for the Digital Concert Hall. When she got the opportunity to try her hand at conducting a little later on, she immediately felt, “this is what I want to do!” However, it was to be some time before she made this dream a reality. She first began her professional career as principal cellist with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.
But then, alongside her work as an orchestral musician, she decided to thoroughly study the craft of conducting – as a student of Eri Klas, Leif Segerstam and Jorma Panula. A good decision, as since her training, a remarkable career has followed, taking her from principal conductor of the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra of Stavanger in Norway to the Ensemble intercontemperain in Paris and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, which she has led since the 2016/17 season. She is also principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and has appeared at many international concert halls and major opera houses. The fact that she herself sat in the orchestra as a cellist for several years is something she finds valuable for her profession: “I have an understanding of what the musicians need from a conductor. I’m trying to make gestures which make it easier to play. It’s a beautiful give and take.”