Susanna Mälkki: A Pragmatic Idealist


From September 30 to October 2, the OSM welcomes Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki to the Maison symphonique for a series of three concerts. The series traces, through music, humanity’s great adventure from its impetus to conquer to its creative power. Here is the profile of an artist whose vision has captivated the entire world.

The Importance of Nature

Susanna Mälkki grew up in Helsinki, Finland, a country of wide-open spaces. Nature is supremely important to her and walking and hiking are a part of her daily life: “When we are in nature, we are present in the moment and our thoughts can freely soar.” As a child, Susanna Mälkki was immersed in an artistic and cultivated milieu: her mother is a visual artist and her father, a marine scientist and researcher. Singing held an important place in the family, and when Susanna decided she wanted to study music, she hesitated between several instruments before embracing the cello.

Cello and Conducting: Two Sides of the Same Coin

In 1995, Susanna Mälkki was appointed Principal Cello of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. At the same time, a newfound passion inspired her to enrol at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, to learn the conducting profession. While studying in Helsinki, she had the opportunity as an orchestral player to appreciate from a close range the work of Neeme Järvi, as well as that of several guest conductors. After three intensive seasons alternating between the bow and the baton, she decided to take the plunge in conducting profession.

 « We must never underestimate the importance of gesture. » – Susanna Mälkki

Between Idealism and Pragmatism

While there is often a tendency to separate orchestral technique from musical expression, for this Finnish conductor, the two are one and the same, insofar as both technique and expression are deployed through gesture. Mälkki’s are precise, sharp, and exquisitely nuanced. An idealist at heart, she insists, nevertheless, that pragmatism is an essential quality in a conductor. After gaining the confidence of Pierre Boulez by taking the helm of the Ensemble Intercontemporain from 2006 to 2013, today Mälkki leads the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, giving back through the benefit of her expertise to the country that nurtured it. She also serves as Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Art Is Not Decoration

For Susanna Mälkki, music and art in general serve an essential function: they are bearers of a society’s cultural and intellectual heritage. She embraces the opportunity to share this vision through her performances in the most prestigious concert halls throughout the world, where she is regularly invited to take the podium. Her chosen area of expertise encompasses 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century repertoires, and she admits to a soft spot for Wagner’s mesmerizing universe. With this series of three concerts with the OSM, audiences will have the opportunity to appreciate the breadth of Susanna Mälkki’s talent and vision. The three concerts will be streamed on webcast, October 2, 6 and 13. Onnea!

Susanna Mälkki conducts Holst’s The Planets, I. Mars