Susanna Mälkki broke the glass ceiling at La Scala, being the first woman to conduct an opera there, and we thought it must have happened in the seventies, eighties the latest. Sure, the Milan opera is old and venerable; Rossini, Verdi, Puccini premiered their operas in that house. But since booing is a sport there, you'd assume they'd put in the best maestro in the pit regardless of gender. But Susanna was barely out of diapers in the seventies, and our jaw dropped to see it happened less than a year ago. Two lessons: La Scala is stodgier that we thought, and Susanna must be doing something good to earn this honor.
Luckily for us, we'll figure it how good this week-end, with performances with the SF Symphony Friday and Saturday in a program which reflects the conductor. She's been leading the Ensemble Inter-Contemporain in Paris since 2007. It's the orchestra founded by the iconic, controversial Pierre Boulez to perform modern music, and in a nod to the Parisian avant-garde, she'll lead the SF Symphony in Modulations from Les Espaces acoustiques by Gérard Grisey. And she was born in Finland, therefore Sibelius. A Prokofiev piano concerto with Horacio Gutiérrez at the keys completes the all-20th-century evening. We chatted with Susanna at the end of last week while her US tour took her to Seattle.