Malkki at helm of Finnish orchestra cracks glass ceiling

Tue Sep 30, 2014 7:20am EDT
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By Jussi Rosendahl

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Orchestra conductor Susanna Malkki is used to being asked what it is like working in a male-dominated world.

"Maybe one day we will have reached a point where we won't have to discuss the gender issue at all," she said with a smile.

Only a few women have made it to top conducting positions in classical music, and Finland's Malkki has joined the list: the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra has appointed her as its next chief conductor starting in 2016.

She joins a small group of musicians that includes American Marin Alsop at the helm of the Baltimore Symphony and São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra, and Australian Simone Young, director at the Hamburg State Opera and Philharmonic.

The 45-year-old Malkki has won praise around the globe. Her seven seasons as the music director of Ensemble Intercontemporain, a French group founded by Pierre Boulez, earned her a profile as a new music specialist.

Now she is set to take over the first professional symphony orchestra in the Nordic region, which between 1892 and 1923 premiered most symphonic works by Jean Sibelius, with the composer himself on the podium.

Watching Helsinki bathe in an autumn sun through the windows of its new Music Centre, Malkki, who still lives in Paris, said she was excited about the assignment.

"The appointment feels very special as I know so many of these musicians from the past. The biggest compliment a conductor can get from orchestra musicians is to hear that they want to work with you again," she said over a cup of coffee.   Continued...

Finnish orchestra conductor Susanna Malkki poses in Helsinki in this September 2, 2014 photo provided by Lehtikuva. REUTERS/Roni Rekomaa/Lehtikuva