Finnish maestro makes sexist attack on Susanna Mälkki, then apologises

Finnish maestro makes sexist attack on Susanna Mälkki, then apologises


norman lebrecht

December 21, 2019

The notably unruly conductor Leif Segerstam has issued a swift apology for remarks made in an interview with a Danish music magazine, dismissing the sound of the Helsinki Philharmonic as ‘thinner than before’ and opining that its chief conductor, Susanna Mälkki ‘lacks balls’.

After the interview was picked up by tabloid newspapers Segerstam, 75, said, ‘I tend to say stupid things. I’ve always been so silly and childish and naive.’

UPDATE: It’s made the front page


  • Bone says:

    Having balls infers aggression or confidence; is this actually sexist? And he is literally correct: likely the female conductor lacks cajones.

    • Claudio says:

      You meant “implies” not “infers”. You might want to look up the difference between these two words.

      Also, the correct word in Spanish is “cojones” (balls), not “cajones” (the plural of a percussion instrument).

      It’s probably too late to fix your sexism and misogyny, but at least you can work on expressing it more gracefully.

      You are welcome 🙂

    • Selim says:

      Exact spelling is “cojones”

    • Robert Holmén says:

      If a female conductor ridiculed a male conductor for a male-typical but irrelevant factor like going bald, I wonder if there would still be Slipped Disc readers clueless enough to post “it’s literally correct!” and “why does someone have to apologize for being correct??”

      And would they still accept “I’m stupid” as the apology?

      • Bone says:

        Men rarely worry about baldness – just part of living with masculinity.

        • Elisa says:

          lol, judging by your pseudonym here, you concentrate on a second thing men always worry about.

        • Not buyin’ it says:

          Men rarely worry about baldness? LOL. Have you never observed the countless examples of men who do combovers, use toupees, and spray paint their scalp? (I guess Dutoit and the late Pavarotti fooled you…) What about the money spent on Propecia and Rogaine?

    • Emil says:

      Saying a woman is a bad conductor for not being a man; is this sexist, we wonder?

  • R. Brite says:

    That’s not an apology.

  • Stew says:

    Do you have to apologize if you are correct? Or are feelings more important than facts?

    • V. Lind says:

      It’s just rude.

      Slow news day in Finland. (I know, I know — define a fast news day in Finland).

      “Unruly” sounds like a Prince Andrew word, à la “unbecoming.”

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Correct about what?

      Look, if he thinks the sound of the orchestra is thin, and wants to criticise Malkki on those grounds, it is one thing. But to suggest the thin sound is because she is female, and that only “men with balls” can get a thicker sound is absurd.

  • Aaaron Herschel says:

    This is unforgivable.
    Segerstam needs to be banned from all cultural organisations and Susanna Mälkki should take this to court and demand compensation.
    It is no longer acceptable to attack women in such a way, I hope Susanna Mälkki will recover from this gruesome accusation.

  • C Porumbescu says:

    Segerstam gonna Segerstam. He’s nuts. Also a pretty decent carver (these things are not mutually exclusive). How is this news?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      It’s on the sodding front pages of the Finnish papers, that’s how.

      • C Porumbescu says:

        Quiet news day in Helsinki, one suspects.

      • Bone says:

        That’s ok, in ‘Murika the shampeachment is considered news; no one gives the msm much credit for doing anything other than fomenting discontent with gossip disguised as news, anyway. Hate that the poor conductress was accused of not having a particular set of genitalia.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    The Abominable Snowman lives!!

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    A true eccentric. She is actually quite good.

  • Guest says:

    He should be busy giving orders to the elves!

    The only offensive thing here is that he apologized. Why can’t a conductor say that another conductor is weak and effectively that her orchestra has a feminine sound? It’s his opinion and there are many who will say the sound of the orchestra has changed for the better or not changed at all. If he said that, for example, that the Chicago Symphony sounded weak because Muti doesn’t have any balls, there would a discussion of the sound of the orchestra. Why? Because men mix it up and move on but men can’t criticize women professionally (or any other way) without fear of the accusations that will follow.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      No, he directly attributed the sound of the orchestra to the gender of the conductor. He implied that “only a man with balls” can create a more masculine sound.

  • SMH says:

    C’mon, everyone knows that saying someone/thing lacks “balls” has nothing to do with testicles or gender. Granted, there are much better ways to phrase such a sentiment, but people please calm down!

  • Sibeliuslover says:

    It is true the sound of the orchestra is changing, but it has nothing to do with the genitals of the conductor but with the quality and skill of the conductor.

  • fflambeau says:

    He’s a very talented conductor.

    He’s very old, and has apologized, so forget it.

  • Helsinki Concertgoer says:

    For myself and for other regular Helsinki concertgoers I know, Susanna Mälkki has been a huge improvement over her predecessor John Storgårds, a mediocre conductor. However, Mälkki represents a distinctly different tradition than Segerstam (more “French”) and it is no surprise that he would find her conducting to be not his cup of tea.

    • Helsinki Musician says:

      Last sentence might be right, but your Storgårds statements couldn’t be more wrong (and you are certainly speaking only for yourself, not for other concertgoers. One has to doubt if you really are a regular Helsinki concertgoer at all?). He is a great musician and the one who really developed this orchestra hugely, both quality and repertoire. Still highly loved and respected by the orchestra and its audience.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Would the so-called ‘attack’ been merited as tabloid fodder if the conductor criticised had been male? If not it’s the newspapers who are guilty of sexism.

  • Rob says:

    Leif’s recording of the The Lemminkäinen Suite is the best on disc.

    • Novagerio says:

      Rob, I would also add both his cycles of Sibelius symphonies. They are for me among the best out there.
      By the way, “having balls” doesn’t have any medical meaning. Genitals are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding and deliver a 10 pound watermelon (!) 😉

  • G says:

    Apology. Overrated. I say something that I believe and because someone somewhere is “offended” I have to apologise. Not. Grow some balls. All of you.

  • b wilson says:

    Who knew….a classical music website stuffed full of….angry, white guys. Happy to offend others. Bile instead of blood.

  • Roundaboutnow says:

    It’s good to know that high flown cultural debate is alive and well on the internet. With regard to Sibelius, even though he was a bloke, and liked a roll around in the snow as much as anyone, it seems to me his music requires some sensitivity for convincing interpretation. Knowing when to bring the orchestra to a climax is critical. Thus takes a lot of foreplay, involving delicate procedures with tutti. Acchordingly, it is not something exclusive to one or other gender. And therein lies, at least in part, the universal appeal of music, does it not?

  • Peter says:

    It seems to me that there are a couple of interesting questions that may be worth exploring;
    1. Do performers display any repeatable patterns in the quality of their performances, other then technical competence ? (I’m guessing “yes “)
    2. Is this simply individual variation, or is there any systematic pattern which could correlate to common factors, e.g. age, gender, nationality, race, education, sexual orientation, etc. Etc.
    (I doubt it, but would like to hear a range of experiences).
    If “yes” then there could be a meaningful discussion of subjective preference for performers of different backgrounds. And if not then it is just prejudice wrapped up as artistic preference