Rare woman who has shattered classical music’s glass ceiling ...

The Mercury News

Georgia Rowe

At first glance, this week’s San Francisco Symphony program doesn’t appear especially groundbreaking. Works by Stravinsky and Beethoven are standard fare for this orchestra.

But the concerts of June 9-11 promise one of the special events of the season. The reason? Susanna Mälkki.

The great Finnish conductor joins the Symphony this week in Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” and “Scherzo fantastique” and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1. As with Mälkki’s previous appearances with this orchestra, the results are likely to make a big impression.

For many music lovers, Mälkki is more than an outstanding conductor. She’s a hero — one of the few women who have managed to break through classical music’s glass ceiling.

Women continue to make inroads in nearly every field but conducting. They’re leading great democracies (OK, not ours), running major corporations, ushering innovations into the tech world.

Conducting major orchestras? Not so much.

Among the 24 largest classical music organizations in the U.S., only one has a female music director: Marin Alsop, of the Baltimore Symphony. (Alsop last season concluded her 25-year tenure as music director of the Santa Cruz-based Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music.)

The situation is better elsewhere, and Mälkki has emerged at the forefront. She’s chief conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic, and principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut last fall, conducting Kaija Saariaho’s mesmerizing “L’Amour de Loin.”

Mälkki has made frequent appearances at Davies Symphony Hall, beginning in 2012, when she debuted with the orchestra conducting works by Sibelius, Prokofiev and Gérard Grisey. With each return, she has impressed Bay Area audiences with her deep musicality and consummate command of the orchestra.

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