SusannaMälkki

One would have thought (a) that horse has left the barn, (b) that ship has sailed, or (c) dude, it’s over, deal with it.

In the past year, however, some noted classical music figures have questioned whether women have the chops to make it in the cutthroat conducting biz. (Running Germany and the IMF is, of course, so much easier than getting an orchestra safely through Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.)

Rising young Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko, for instance, worried about male musicians keeping their focus with “a sweet girl on the podium.” (He later backpedaled a bit, saying he was referring only to the situation in Russia rather than worldwide.) His veteran compatriot Yuri Temirkanov made an unequivocal pronouncement: “The essence of the conductor’s profession is strength. The essence of a woman is weakness.”

Bruno Mantovani, head of the Paris Conservatory, raised “the maternity problem” and questioned women’s ability to handle the travel and other physical demands that conductors typically face. In an interview broadcast interview in April from Finland, Jorma Panula, 83, a revered conducting teacher whose students included Esa-Pekka Salonen and Osmo Vänskä, criticized women conductors: “some of them are making faces, sweating and fussing.” Half of his current students are women, but he advises aspiring female conductors to stick with “feminine music. Bruckner or Stravinsky will not do, but Debussy is OK. This is purely an issue of biology.”

Criticism of these comments was quick and fierce. But Ravinia’s audience will have a chance to assess the controversy for themselves when one of the most exciting young conductors on today’s scene — Susanna Mälkki (pictured above) of Finland, and a former student of Panula — makes her Ravinia debut. She leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on July 16 in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Midori as soloist and a suite from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet.

Quite sensibly, Mälkki, who made her CSO debut in 2011, refuses to be drawn into the controversy. Her publicist politely refused a request for comment, adding that “since the beginning of her career, Ms. Mälkki has not been giving any specific interviews on this subject. She understands the interest in the subject and the importance of it, but considers her work to be a sufficient contribution to the discussion.”

To read the complete article from Ravinia magazine, go to ravinia.org.

NOTE: For an interview with Susanna Mälkki, as broadcast last fall on Andrew Patner’s weekly WFMT-FM radio show “Critical Thinking,” click here.

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