NEW YORK (AP) — Her arms at her side against her glimmering, long black jacket and her blond hair pulled into a ponytail, Susanna Mälkki soaked in several minutes of applause after a thrilling Carnegie Hall debut. She had conducted the New York Philharmonic in a challenging program, perceived as a possible prelude to becoming the first woman music director of an orchestra that started in 1842.
“Of course, it’s always an honor to be mentioned in this kind of context,” she said during an interview with The Associated Press the day before the Jan. 6 performance. “It’s really, really fun to be with the orchestra. But the `l’actualité,’ as they say in French: This something that the orchestra will take their time. They will try out a lot of people.”
Musicians beamed as the audience erupted following the Philharmonic’s first Carnegie Hall appearance in six years, broadcast live on radio. Leelanee Sterrett, the acting associate principal horn, detected a “focused energy” that Mälkki brought to the podium and called it “one of those performances where in the concert everything was kind of taken up a notch, dialed up a notch.”
A native of Finland who turns 53 on March 13, Mälkki studied at the Sibelius Academy and London’s Royal Academy of Music, and she was mentored by Esa-Pekka Salonen.
She was principal cellist of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra from 1995-98, then left to concentrate on conducting. She served as music director of the Paris-based Ensemble Intercontemporain from 2006-13, became chief conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra starting during the 2016-17 season and principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for 2017-18. She announced she will leave the Finland post at the end of the 2022-23 season.
A woman has never been music director of the Big Five: the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra and Cleveland Orchestra.