The difference a woman makes as music director

The difference a woman makes as music director


norman lebrecht

September 08, 2016

Susanna Mälkki starts work at the Helsinki Philharmonic tomorrow. Here’s her opening programme:

KAIJA SAARIAHO Asteroid 4179: Toutatis
JEAN SIBELIUS Canzonetta (arr. Stravinsky)

The only Sibelius is a Stravinsky arrangement, and there will be no more of him this season.

Next week, Susanna conducts Boulez, Maresz and Berlioz.  Over the next couple of months there will be Messiaen, Dutilleux, Debussy, Murail, Ravel.

It’s a complete refresher course for Finnish ears.

Which man would take such risks in the first season of his first music directorship?

susanna malkki


  • Petros Linardos says:

    Perhaps David Robertson, if he could operate under the safety of a public funding,

  • Roz says:

    Oh please, NO! Women have been fighting against this sort of sexist comment for decades! As an example: Beecham dismissed the female players of the Halle orchestra after WW1 with the excuse that women did not play with the same style as men! Robert Schumann accused women of not being able to write strong music….. I thought that the Arts had woken up to the fact that people are just people!

  • Mathieu says:

    I think gender has nothing to do with it. S. Mälkki is an experienced 20th century & contemporary music conductor (she was music director of the Ensemble InterContemporain), so it is only natural that this is reflected in the works she conducts…

    • Pirkko says:

      And that kind of programme is nothing new to the Finnish ears either. Helsinki Phil has just always had a bit more conservative repertoire than the FRSO, and it’s a pity that they are now hunting on the same ground.

    • V.Lind says:

      Thank you. a MUSICAL observation, with no regard to the sex of the conductor.

      Despite the perfectly correct headline, which can be read as a specific reference to Ms. Mälkki and no other, based in the ongoing theme on this blog it can also be read as a general observation about women on the podium.

      Mathieu’s comment reminds those of us who have to be reminded that when it comes to a profession such as conducting, there is no such thing as “women.” Tastes, choices and expertise are specific to each individual, of either sex.

  • Observer from Finland says:

    Well, it’s an adventurous programme for the first season although overall it’s not so easy for me to find the dramaturgical common thread behind these choices nor to agree that her programming would be something revolutionary in Finland where throughout the country the orchestras and audiences have been very open for fresh combinations of contemporary and mainstream repertoire. Actually, Helsinki Phil now with its conservative core audience seems to be struggling to sell out the tickets even to their new chief conductor’s concerts.

    It’s weird, especially compared to the Finnish RSO, which has since years been way more attractive in programming since Hannu Lintu, who’s been conducting lots of fresh combinations of contemporary music. There’s an odd difference in the attitude of these two orchestras’ audiences. And by the way, now that Esa-Pekka Salonen has given his face for Finnish National Opera, Mälkki is going to have a hard time proving her credibility and talent not only as a gifted conductor but also as an inspiring and visionary music director. Good luck with that!

  • Observer from Finland says:

    To add a few words, Dutilleux, Ravel, Messiaen, Debussy, Ligeti Lindberg and Saariaho are all totally standard repertoire in Finnish orchestral life. Turangalila was very recently played and recorded by Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. All the big works by Dutilleux have been performed in Finland, some of them regularly.

    So of course we are happy to have more of it, but it should be acknowledged that adventurous programming nowadays comes from interesting contexts, interconnections and dramaturgical counterpoint within the contemporary, between contemporary and classical etc., not just by bringing in contemporary music per se.

    • Another observer from Finland says:

      Indeed, the discussion here is not about the Finnish RSO who has always been forward-looking in its repertoire. But the issue is strictly about the Helsinki Phil, and the difference between their previous chief conductor John Storgårds and Mälkki is quite an obvious one.

      Storgårds was for Mahler, Bruckner, Brahms, Beethoven, Sibelius, Nielsen… – added with representatives of current Nordic contemporary music (like Norgård, Rasmussen, Rautavaara…). Quite classical and definitely oriented to the symphony genre.

      But Mälkki is Boulez, Dutilleux, Messiaen, Ravel…

      A risky move but Helsinki Phil does not want to be number #2….
      We will see what the Helsinki Phil audience will think about this.

      • Observer from Finland says:

        I agree with you reg FRSO vs HPhil / Storgårds vs. Mälkki, fellow observer. Just pointing out that the blogger mentions “Finnish ears to be refreshened” which sounds as if there wasn’t anything like this before in our lively musical life. Maybe he should’ve stated “Helsinki Phil ears” instead. 😉

  • Ben says:

    Who cares about female conductors making differences? They only need to make music.

    P.S. Jane Glover is going to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra this season.