The Chief Conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra steps in for an indisposed Valery Gergiev on Sunday 12 March, making her LSO debut a year earlier than planned. Here’s five things you need to know about the life and career of Susanna Mälkki …
1. She began her career as a cello player …
Mälkki’s first instrument was the violin, but she switched to the cello at the age of nine and studied at the Sibelius Academy and at the Royal Academy of Music in London. In 1994 she won first prize in the Turku National Cello Competition and the next year she became Principal Cello of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, a post she retained until 1998.
2. … before switching to conducting
‘I had always been interested in conducting. As an orchestral player I’d always analysed what worked and what didn’t. Even after my cello studies the idea was still in my head.’ – The Guardian
So while she was still playing in the orchestra in Gotherburg Mälkki also applied to the prestigious conducting course at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki (which boasts Sakari Oramo, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Jukka-Pekka Saraste and Osmo Vänskä among its former pupils). She was accepted and commuted between Gothenburg and Helsinki for years before deciding to settle on a career in conducting.
3. Thomas Adès came to her diploma exam
Mälkki’s final assignment at the Academy was to conduct the Finnish premiere of Thomas Adès’ chamber opera Powder Her Face. The composer himself was in the audience and noticed Mälkki’s talent; he asked her to assist him in other performances of the work back in England. It was there that she met her agent, and began to get attention with guest performances at the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.
4. New music is in her blood
Mälkki was the Music Director of the formidable Ensemble Intercontemporain from 2006 to 2013, made her BBC Proms debut with the London Sinfonietta in 2007, and has remained committed to programming contemporary music even in her roles as the head of more traditional ensembles.