Susanna Mälkki: My old teacher has changed his tune

Susanna Mälkki: My old teacher has changed his tune


norman lebrecht

April 01, 2014

The Finnish conductor has responded coolly to a statement by her professor, Jorma Panula, that women were biologically disabled from becoming great conductors. His comments, reported by Slipped Disc, have aroused a conflagration across Finnish media. Ms Mälkki told the Helsingin Sanomat: ‘A few years ago, Jorma had a different opinion. I feel lucky that I got to study under his direction at the time.’

The conductor Anna-Maria Helsing, another Panula student, said: ‘This is difficult to take seriously. Surely in this profession one cannot talk about biology in the same way as some others.’




  • Very interesting Norman. That Jorma Panula was training women, indicates that the problem may be with the poor male conductors and not with the women.

    Or maybe there will always be the female conductors who do the equivalent of climb trees.

  • James Brinton says:

    Ms. Mälkki herself is a refutation of Panula’s contention.

    We here in Boston have taken great pleasure in her conducting with the BSO, both in Symphony Hall and at Tanglewood. Her performances are always exciting and insightful, and–importantly–the BSO’s musicians always play superbly for her.

    She has guest conducted almost every important orchestra in the world. She became Music Director of Ensemble InterContemporain, Paris, in 2006, succeeding Pierre Boulez, Peter Eotvos, David Robinson, and Jonathan Nott. The first woman in the post, she held it until 2013, cementing a reputation as a proponent of modern music while premiering new works here (with the BSO and others) and in Europe. In May 2013, she was appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Gulbenkian Orchestra.

    Her range goes well beyond new music. Here in Boston we have been treated to the most elegant Haydn and Beethoven while at the London Proms, she’s managed massive works like Berlioz’s Te Deum with ease and authority.

    It’s also worth pointing out that while Andris Nelsons may have made the final cut as BSO music director, there were many here in Boston who favored Susanna Mälkki instead.

    I can only conclude that Jorma Panula must have been having a very bad day.

  • Bosse Bergkvist says:

    Well, it’s probably all in the hormones of the dear old man!

  • Joseph says:

    Susanna Mälkki is a fantastic conductor. I’ve played under her direction, and hope to have the opportunity to do so again. Any orchestra who has her at their helm is fortunate, indeed!

  • Eric in Boston says:

    Very gracious of Ms Mallkki, remembering her teacher in a positive light.

    I echo the sentiments above, having enjoying two of her performances, both very memorable still.

    I was disappointed to see that she is not guest conducting the BSO next season.

    Hopefully she will soon gain the music directorship of a prominent orchestra!