Klaus Mäkelä to become CSO music director—in 2027

Tue Apr 02, 2024 at 10:15 am

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Finnish conductor Klaus Mäkelä will be the youngest music director in the history of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Photo: Marco Borggreve

The expected news was finally made official Tuesday morning: Klaus Mäkelä will be the next music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

The Finnish conductor, 28, has been named music director designate effective immediately. He will take the reins officially at the start of the 2027-28 season, when he also becomes chief conductor of the storied Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam.

“I am honored to have been chosen as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and inspired to embark on this journey with an orchestra that combines such brilliance, power, and passion,” said the conductor in a statement released by the CSO. “I look forward to getting to know the musicians more over the coming years, and am grateful for the time this allows for us to establish and deepen our relationship, in preparation for what is a major and exciting commitment.”

Mäkelä’s appointment is for an initial five-year term through the 2031-2032 season. He will conduct a minimum of 14 weeks a season, with ten weeks of subscription concerts and four weeks of touring, the same as his predecessor, Riccardo Muti.

Mäkelä is in town to lead this week’s concerts, and the news was announced to the musicians at the top of the 10 a.m. rehearsal Tuesday morning.

Mäkelä made his Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut in 2022. Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Mäkelä has only led the CSO on two occasions, in 2022 and 2023, but both were strong showings that clearly impressed the musicians, board and management

“In his first two memorable engagements with the CSO, Klaus Mäkelä established an exceptional connection with our musicians and demonstrated his ability to deliver extremely moving performances of a wide range of repertoire,” said the orchestra’s CEO and president Jeff Alexander. 

“As we got to know him off the podium and witnessed…his passion for the art form, keen interest in music education and the legacy of the CSO, and innate ability to connect warmly and sincerely with our trustees, volunteers, concert attendees, donors, and administrative staff, it quickly became clear that he was the ideal choice to lead the orchestra into the future.”

Clearly, in addition to his genuine musical bona fides, the Finnish conductor’s youth and charisma was a factor in the appointment, for an orchestra that has been struggling to fill seats in recent seasons, even on Riccardo Muti nights.

Mäkelä will be the orchestra’s 11th music director and the youngest in CSO history. He will be 31 when he officially takes the podium in 2027, displacing Rafael Kubelik who was 36 in 1950 when he started his short tenure. 

The three-year wait before his CSO position begins is largely due to Mäkelä wanting to fulfill his existing commitments to the two orchestras with which he is currently affiliated. 

“From 2027/28 my main responsibilities will be my partnerships with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra,” said Mäkelä in a statement. “Until then I remain committed to my ongoing collaborations with the Orchestre de Paris and Oslo Philharmonic. I look forward to all the music-making we have planned for the next three seasons and to returning to both institutions on a regular basis after my official tenures are completed.”

Last month Mäkelä received accolades for his Stravinsky program with the Orchestre de Paris at Carnegie Hall.

With several vacant roster positions that need to be filled, a CSO spokesperson said that Mäkelä will be able to weigh in on personnel decisions immediately (along with the relevant CSO committees).

“From Klaus Mäkelä’s first moments on the podium, the musicians of the orchestra recognized that we were working with a conductor of extraordinary ability,” said William Buchman, assistant principal bassoon and a member of the music director search committee. “His natural leadership drew our immediate focus, and the clarity of his musical ideas made it feel effortless to perform at the high level for which we strive.”

This week’s program includes Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 and Cello Concerto No. 1 with soloist Sol Gabetta plus the U.S. premiere of Sauli Zinovjev’s Batteria.

Photo: Marco Borggreve

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9 Responses to “Klaus Mäkelä to become CSO music director—in 2027”

  1. Posted Apr 02, 2024 at 1:07 pm by P.Ryan

    Best news from the CSO! So thrilling to have a young, brilliant person on the podium!! He was one of my top picks to lead the orchestra.

  2. Posted Apr 02, 2024 at 3:10 pm by Peter Todd Borich

    Too Bad That Maestro Haitink Is Not Available Anymore To Fill the Three-Year Gap!

  3. Posted Apr 02, 2024 at 3:14 pm by Tim

    Perhaps he’s over their budget. But, the board of GPMF should be on the phone with Hrusa right now, pitching “Summers in Chicago: the best time of year!” Considering his creative and excellent programming, it would be an intriguing match that could really spark something in a city celbrated for its fire.

  4. Posted Apr 02, 2024 at 4:25 pm by Gregory Nigosian

    This appointment brings to mind Robert Maynard Hutchins who was brought in to lead the University of Chicago at age 29. He served a formidable 22 years, and even if you disagree with some of his ideas (as many in the University did in later years) he clearly shook things up, both on campus and nationally. In the CSO case, I doubt that anyone expects or hopes for a drastic change.

  5. Posted Apr 03, 2024 at 9:11 am by Richard T

    Unfortunately, Hrůša will probably end up somewhere else, like Cleveland, which is also in search of an MD. He’s equally an unknown full of great potential, but is, today, the far more mature, far more finished artist.

    My best wishes to our new Music Director. I have a ticket for Friday, and am looking forward to the concert, and to hearing Sol Gabetta as well.

    Richard

  6. Posted Apr 04, 2024 at 10:00 am by Roger

    Imagine that the board of a major corporation did such a pathetic job of succession planning that its new CEO would not report for full-time duty for more than three years. The company’s stock would tank so quickly that the exchange would be forced to halt trading.

    Hopefully the chosen wunderkind will prove to be such a success with the CSO that the risk is worth taking. But meanwhile, there are major issues to be addressed, among them (but not limited to):

    Declining attendance—Yes, Makela might prove a shot-in-the-arm for attracting a younger audience; but these people are reputed to be looking for instant gratification, not something that’s three years away.

    Personnel needs—Given the recent and ongoing controversy over the principal horn chair, a firm hand of musical leadership and judgment is needed from the Music Director. Can someone who visits a few weeks each year do an adequate evaluation of performance excellence? There will likely be many key slots to be filled in the not-so-distant future, especially in the vaunted lower brass.

    All I know of Makela is based on his YouTube videos with Paris and Oslo. His performances strike me as prone to musical exaggeration. Yes, they can be exciting, but will they wear well over time? I also note that he excels at self-promotion, with seeemingly as many “Why I’m a great conductor” interviews as Bernstein did in a lifetime

    Color me skeptical over this announcement.

  7. Posted Apr 04, 2024 at 3:51 pm by Alan

    This is the hire of a lifetime. I’m 77, I’ve seen almost all of the great conductors of the last 50 years and the only conductors I can remember who were this good at his age were Carlos Kleiber and Herbert von Karajan. This is the beginning of a legend.

  8. Posted Apr 05, 2024 at 3:46 pm by Roger

    Although the Makela appointment as the CSO’s next MD is not surprising, it was not anticipated by this long-time subscriber. I enjoyed and was highly impressed with the concert he led earlier. The orchestra played beautifully, even the horn section, in the Mahler 5th. Admittedly, I favored Jakub Hrusa. As one mentioned, the GPMF board should pronto sign him to succeed Carlos Kalmar. Hrusa, part of Chicago’s summer musical scene, would be more than welcome.

    Looking back over 40 years of concert going, the “Golden Age” was the “Gang of Five” – Solti, Giulini, Abbado, Leinsdorf and Slatkin – at the podium and Kubelik, Tennstedt, Rozhdestvensky, et. al., frequently for more than one week, visited. Those memories remain.

    With a generational change, Makela would be wise to schedule Hruska, van Zwaden, Thielmann, Honneck and Mälkki for frequent visits. All very prominent, audience favorites and fine maestros and schedules permitting, multiple weeks. THE CSO needs another “Golden Age”!

    Much is made of Makela’s youth. Once the honeymoon is over, time will tell. More than a few organizational rising stars ended as meteor dust since they never matured. But the the best to or the new MD. “The Maestro is Dead. Long Live the Maestro!”

  9. Posted Apr 05, 2024 at 4:11 pm by Sophie Hsia

    The CSO is a real gem. Throughout my life I’ve lived in big cities via work contracts and have experienced great orchestras: the Boston Symphony, one or two Belgian orchestras, the Paris Conservatoire, Hong Kong Philharmonic and another one in Singapore. I’ve been lucky! But not as transformingly lucky as having moved to Chicago over twenty years ago and epxerienced the CSO and MDs like Muti! What an experience!

    I look forward to our new MD and even at my age hope to “grow” with him.

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