Culture Talk
Susanna Mälkki

  Finnish star-conductor Susanna Mälkki in a Cercle Diplomatique exclusive interview about her debut at the Vienna State Opera, the composer Gottfried von Einem and the orchestra as a polyphonic instrument.

  Interview: Evelyn Rois & Bruno Stubenrauch

You make your debut at the Vienna State Opera in March 2018 with the premiere of „Dantons Tod“ - is Gottfried von Einem's contemporary opera a particularly challenging entry on the Viennese stage?

I think it’s very exciting, actually. The Büchner play, which the opera is based on, is touching on many subjects which are related even to the people and the societies of today’s world, and I find it fascinating how von Einem is able to include a lot in his musical language, which is stylistically both modern and classical. „Dantons Tod“ is not radical avant-garde (which could be more challenging for the public), but definitely very intelligently written and has many very powerful moments. I believe that opera is at its best when it tells important stories, and this one does it very well.

Contemporary opera is a rare exception on the repertoire of most opera houses- should the opera in your opinion, as a specialist for contemporary music, be more current?

I think opera is the best artform imaginable to connect different époques, and therefore being current or up-to-date does not depend solely on the date of the musical composition. Much is being talked about theatre and film influences in opera staging, opera is changing visually as well. I think the only real danger is not to study and perform the work with a contemporary mind, since we are doing it for modern audiences - but this does not need to mean not respecting the tradition!

Next to Simone Young and Speranza Scappucci, you are now the third female conductor on the podium of the Vienna State Opera. Are women at the podium still a controversial topic in the world of classical music?

It may still be new in some people’s minds, but I wouldn’t say it’s controversial. I’m happy that things are changing now even in the classical music business. Personally, I always find the work at hand more important than the person performing it.

Your original musical love is the cello, you were one of the principals of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra for several years. What made you change to the conductor's desk?

For me the best musical sound world, or actually the best instrument, has always been the sound of an orchestra. I loved playing in orchestra and being part of that sound. What drew me into conducting is the richness of the scores, the polyphony, the architecture of sound and time, and I noticed that my way of thinking of music suited very well to all that and the process of preparation of a big piece of music. The change was finally very natural, conducting simply took over. I never really had to make the choice, it was made for me in form of opportunities, and I was willing to follow the path.

Susanna Mälkki studied the cello at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and was
principal cellist at the Gothenburg Symphony before turning to conducting. From
2009 to 2013, she directed the Ensemble intercontemporain. Internationally in
great demand as a guest conductor, Mälkki performed with the New York
Philharmonic, the Berliner Philharmoniker and many others. In 2016, Susanna
Mälkki took over the position as chief conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic
Orchestra. Since autumn 2017 she is principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles

Dantons Tod
Oper von Gottfried von Einem
Dirigentin, Susanna Mälkki
Regie, Josef Ernst Köpplinger
24.3.2018, Premiere
27.3., 31.3., 3.4., 6.4., 9.4.2018
Wiener Staatsoper

copyright: rois&stubenrauch | für Cercle Diplomatique 1/2018

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