During a rehearsal in Los Angeles in October, Mälkki was, as in Helsinki, friendly and assertive. Carolyn Hove, the English horn player from the Philharmonic, described Mälkki as “100% prepared” by the time she steps onto the podium, and that “when a conductor is really effective it makes our job so much more fun. “
While perusing Scriabin’s “The Poem of Ecstasy,” Mälkki gestured to sections of the ensemble, but also let his gaze move upward. (“Some people listen with their eyes closed,” she said, “and I guess the way I look up is the same, that I want to free my ears.”) All this time she was keeping notes. in her head she was shaking as soon as the reading stopped.
These notes were comprehensive and crucial, as the orchestra rehearsed for the US premiere of “Vista” by Kaija Saariaho a piece dedicated to Mälkki, who is one of the main navigators of the idiosyncratic sound world of Saariaho. “I have always trusted her and she understands my music,” Saariaho said in June, shortly before Mälkki conducted the world premiere of her opera “Innocence” at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence in France.
Over the past two decades, their relationship has grown to the point where, Saariaho said, “we don’t need to verbalize a lot.” When “L’Amour de Loin” arrived at the Metropolitan Opera in 2016, Saariaho insisted that Mälkki conduct it. (She will return to the Met to direct Stravinsky’s “The Progress of the Rake” this spring.)
Mälkki’s specialty in living composers like Saariaho is one of the reasons she was brought to Los Angeles, Smith said. “The other part,” he added, “was just his way of thinking about programming, which is unique.” He used this October concert as an example: overture with “Vista”, followed by Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto and “Poem”.