Mälkki and Midori at Ravinia

M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic

Last month, Susanna Mälkki made her Ravinia debut conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She’s become one of the female conductors to watch since she left her position as principal cellist of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra to study conducting at the Sibelius Academy. She’s begun to make a name for herself around the world.

It was a lovely summer evening when she took the podium at Ravinia and led the CSO and soloist Midori in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. Mälkki’s confidence was evident and although she’s famous for her conducting contemporary repertoire, she drew expertly on all the romantic elements the composer embroidered throughout this masterwork.

Midori is unquestionably a virtuoso and compelling violinist. But sometimes it is hard to put your finger on just what makes her the player she is. She combined ferocious and rapid-fire finger work with occasional intonation errors. The middle movement found Mälkki coaxing the orchestra into hushed sounds while Midori was pensive and perhaps at moments even limp.

But the final movement was all excitement and brilliance from orchestra and soloist with the audience applauding even before the sound had died out.

After the intermission, Mälkki once again ascended the podium, this time to conduct her own set of selections from Prokovfiev’s Suite from Romeo and Juliette. Opening with “The Prince Gives His Order,” there was a stunning move, effected organically, from fortissimo to pianissimo. The brass in “Interlude” played magnificently and “Preparations for the Ball” was both cute and blustery. “Dance of the Knights” was crisp and bold, with the top strings offering just the right acid sound to create the feeling of disdain.

The “Love Dance” was light as air and ended with a sigh of contentment. There was great depth in “Juliet’s Funeral” and the “Death of Juliet” was softly poignant.