Susanna Mälkki, who makes her Met debut this month conducting L’Amour de Loin, thrives on her job’s myriad responsibilities.
On a sunny day in Paris, her adopted home, Susanna Mälkki is catching up on her paperwork. The Finnish conductor, former music director of the Ensemble InterContemporain, is calm, discreet and supremely well organized—rather as she is on the podium, where she places those qualities at the service of making magic out of the music.
Mälkki seems, in certain ways, a model of classic assertiveness. With considered clarity, she can elicit the effects she wants in rehearsal by stating even challenging matters in a straightforward way, often achieving magnificent results. Now that she is forty-seven, her artistry is being recognized with some significant new appointments: this fall she became principal conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, in the city where she grew up; and she has been named principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic beginning in fall 2017.
In another career landmark, she is conducting at the Met for the first time this month, taking the helm for Kaija Saariaho’s opera L’Amour de Loin (Love from Afar)—the first opera by a woman to have been performed at this house since 1903. Female conductors at the house have also been few and far between. Mälkki responds to the prospect as any conductor might, regardless of gender. “I’m really pleased,” she says. “I’ve heard this orchestra many times since 1998, when I was in New York for the first time. It’s an amazing orchestra and an amazing opera house with the greatest history. I feel honored to work there.”
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