Breaking: Boy wonder is new chief of Orchestre de Paris

Breaking: Boy wonder is new chief of Orchestre de Paris


norman lebrecht

June 18, 2020

The political authorities who control the Orchestre de Paris have appointed the young Finn, Klaus Mäkelä, to succeed Daniel Harding as music director.

Mäkelä starts the job in September 2022 but will be in Paris on 9 July to perform with the orchestra’s first public concert since the onset of the Covid pandemic.

The programme will consists of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin  and Beethoven’s 7th symphony.

Mäkela, who is 24, recently extended his contract with the Oslo Philharmonic, where he does not start work until the autumn. His agent is playing this for all it’s worth.

It’s not clear if Mäkelä speks French. Harding’s predecessor, Paavo Järvi, never did.



  • sabrinensis says:

    Did he actually study an instrument? Just asking.

  • BP says:

    The “political authorities” who allegedly control the Orchestre de Paris don’t give two hoots about who its director is. The Minister of Culture is a goner and will be replaced in two weeks, and the mayor of Paris couldn’t tell a clarinet from a bagpipe. The buck stops with the president of the Philharmonie.

  • Oliveira says:

    Unbelievable! What is the political power…

    • Freddynyc says:

      Perhaps that’s the whole point….!

      • Oliveira says:

        Yes, he is a good conductor, but is so clear that the conditions for this to happens is more about political power and business than any other thing…to meet the right people make the difference

  • Anon says:

    Perhaps the most brilliant young conductor of our time. Congrats!

  • Christopher Culver says:

    Paavo Järvi’s language skills are curious, to say the least. In spite of settling in the United States at an age when most immigrants do lose their accent within just a few years, to this day he speaks English with a very heavy accent and the occasional jarring grammatical slip.

    And considering that he grew up in a family that is a classical music aristocracy and he dedicated himself to the art from a young age, it’s odd that he never learned French, a language which tends to come to many classical performers through osmosis, either from writings about music, or through literary traditions that walk hand-in-glove with classical music for such families of the intelligentsia.

    • fliszt says:

      I’ve known Paavo Jarvi for 30 years. He does not have a thick accent, and his English is good.

    • fflambeau says:

      I had an uncle who was born in Austria and went to the USA when he was about 17; he spoke English with a heavy accent. On the other hand, his 2 younger brothers, including my father, left at ages when they were younger, about 7, and spoke English without accents. I think it has to do at what age you arrive in an English speaking country.

    • Music Lover says:

      It is essential for a conductor to have a foreign accent. BTW, Why is it so important to learn French as a conductor?? French is just another foreign language, like German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese etc. French people have so much pride in their language…

      • John Borstlap says:

        All languages are foreign. So, to enhance that fact, British Leopold Stokowski cultivated an accent which made him more foreign.

  • Susan Hinely says:

    Well someone clearly doesn’t SPEK English

  • clarrieu says:

    “The political authorities who control the …” Just to know, Norman, would you have put the same sentence in front of another european orchestra’s name? Just asking…

  • Antony says:

    “Boy wonder”?!? The young man is 24. Patronizing headline, to say the least. Time for this to stop. No justification for talking about “boys” or “girls” when discussing mature adults in a professional setting. Young conductors have a hard enough time dealing with the demands of our profession without being the recipients of such disrespect.

    • MacroV says:

      Normally I would agree with you, but 24 is still quite young for a conductor and one who is put in charge of two A-list orchestras is indeed a wonder. So in this case it seems appropriate.

    • Karl says:

      Don’t be so uptight. Recent studies show the human brain doesn’t fully develop until age 25. How do we know this kid won’t change drastically and start programming hip hopera and beatboxing concertos?

    • I’ll just note that the original “boy wonder” was movie producer Irving Thalberg.

      The label, from show-biz columnist Louella Parsons, seemed only to empower him more.

      But Slipped Disc is no Louella Parsons.

  • Leo Doherty says:

    Thomas Beecham didn’t have any musical qualifications when he started at age 20. He didn’t really play piano much either but he had great management skills and knew how to get what he wanted. I’ll probably get lots of comments now about his access to money but being a conductor is about how you relate to the audience rather than about anything else I think. Good luck to Klaus.

  • Evan Tucker says:

    Too much too early. It’s Harding all over again….

  • sam says:


    What was the interview question? Do you have a pilot’s license? No? You’re hired!

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    Rightly or wrongly, I don’t know many musicians with 40 years’ professional playing experience that would accept being told what to do by a 24-year-old.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      Apparently the Cleveland Orchestra — no pushovers, they — were delighted to be told what to do, judging from their reaction to his second appearance with them. But he was 23 at the time, so maybe they’d have behaved differently for him at 24. 😉

      • Ruben Greenberg says:

        Peter: If a 23-year-old Mozart told me what to do musically, I would be delighted and hang on his every word. I would also have liked to study poetry with a 17-year-old Rimbaud.

        • John Borstlap says:

          It would not entirely be without danger to study with a 17-year old Rimbaud. During a café drink together with his then lover Paul Verlaine, he took out a knife and stabbed Verlaine’s hand a couple of times, just for the fun of it, or hoping to draw some poetical inspiration from the occasion.

  • Concert-Goer says:

    Sad! Heard his debut with the Orchestre de Paris this season. While the Grieg Concerto was great, the Shostakovitch 5th was terrible. He’s just too young…..for once I join the opinion of one particular Frau on this website 🙂

    For me the position should have gone to Sokhiev. His concerts with the OdP this season, out of all the conductors who visited, were BY FAR the best! I couldn’t even believe it was the same orchestra as in the other concerts!
    Too bad also that Honeck didn’t get to make his debut, maybe he would have also gotten a chance. Guess the local musicians care more about an easy life than abut making serious music…SAD!!

  • La-di-da says:

    Do not get it! Babies started taking positions of such public responsibility… Being cellist, just having finished conducting studies does not mean You can be the leader of such living instrument … But, the experience got so under graded lately… I hope I am wrong…

  • Derek says:

    I would say that Klaus Makela is exceptional for his age.

    When I saw him conduct he was mightily impressive and the orchestra really responded to him.

    He is bright, has natural authority and clearly, a great musical gift. He will be one to watch.

  • fflambeau says:

    He looks even younger than 24.

    Congratulations to him and best wishes.

  • Karl says:

    After Harding, Mäkelä will have no problem at the OdP, for whatever that is worth.

  • annnon says:

    The Orchestre de Paris has never been among the top 25 orchestras in the world, despite the historical global prominence of Paris jostling for the number 1 spot in so many categories, despite having been led by the most illustrious names in the past, despite having a spanking new hall…

    This little gimmick (and I’m not even talking about Makela himself) will do nothing to raise either the profile or the standard of the orchestra.

    • Maybe but this orchestra deserve a lot of respect and it can play very good a lot of things, not only debussy and Ravel. There very good for Sibelius and there concerts attract alot of people.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I think that French orchestras are spectacularly good in getting things right very quickly, and reacting very directly, and players being exceptionally musical, and alert, but that it is difficult for them to really get the last bit of the trajectory right. Maybe it is a matter of patience. German orchestras are the other way around: difficult to get off the ground, but as soon as they are floating, they get there entirely.

  • urania says:

    What I do see here does not convince me – lack of dynamic and he is more or less following instead of leading the orchestra. Most young conductors dont know how to do this anymore. Too early for a position like Paris. But PR nowadays is more important.

    • Peter Huynh says:

      Bolero isn’t the first piece that’d spring to mind for evaluating a conductor’s ability for direction. (To some discerning eyes, that ‘lack of dynamism’ can sometimes be confused with allowing the musicians freedom to work). Maybe try his Beethoven 9?

    • John Borstlap says:

      With all due respect, but it is ridiculous to judge a conductor on Bolero, which even the composer could conduct. It’s one, two, three and trying to keep awake.

      (In an interview Ravel was asked, after a concert, how he found conducting his own Bolero, on which he answered: ‘It’s not hard you know, it’s 1, 2, 3 all the time.’ When the interviewer asked: but at the end, that’s different isn’t it? he answered: ‘O, there I just wave around a bit’.)

    • FrauGeigerin says:

      Exactly! Too young for this position. What do they have to offer? Just energy…

  • Julien says:

    A lot of musicians of OP are very enthusiastic about this choice and impatient to work with him.

  • It’s a suprise. There were more rumors about François-Xavier Roth the most famous French conductor of today and Karina Canellakis. Maybe they refused, we will never know.

  • M says:

    Another flashy conductor appointment. From watching his performances, his conducting displays nothing musically relevant to the orchestra.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The interpretative work is done during rehearsels, not on the concert, when a good conductor reduces his indications to the minimum.

    • FrauGeugerin says:

      I thought the same. 24? He should be conducting youth orchestras… I have not seen yet a conductor under 35 delivering on both a musical and technical way.

      Regarding knowledge of the local language: I’d say only c.25% of the guest conductor we get speak it. Most rehearsals are in English. Our current MD does it speak it. It is neither and

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    OMG, please no. I don’t care how “amazingly talented” he is. I don’t care how promising, “upcoming”, “young”, “fresh”, and “new” he is. His “youthness”, “freshness” and “newness” will not compensate for his lack of conducting, musical, and life experience. He is 24. I am sick and tired of having all these “new, young and upcoming” conductors guest conducting my orchestra conducting for the audience (not for themusic), and having the orchestra compensate for their lack of profound life and musical experience. In order to stand in front of 80+ people (all of them very talented as well, and more music and life experienced) one must have something to offer… at 24 there is nothing except energy.

    I know it is “cool” having someone like that as MD or principal conductor (it is great for Marketing!) or whatever the position is, but this is not the way to go. Please, stop this madness of the young conductors. Agencies push these kids into careers they are not ready for. That is not good for the orchestra, the conductor, andthe music.

    • Just Wondering says:

      Have you worked with him?

      • FrauGeigerin says:

        No, but I have worked with almost every major conductor, and all the major “boy wonders” of the last 20 years from all agencies. I don’t need to see this young man to know that I am not interested in anything a 24-year old conductor has to offer… I have been playing in professional orchestras when he was still in Kindergarten.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Musical ability for conducting is independent of age, there are ‘old’ conductors without dept of musical feeling however technically-apt they may be, and there are young or youngish performers able to express musical and emotional depth far beyond their factual age.

          If young conductors are pushed forward who don’t have that musical depth, they will disappear anyway. There is nothing against giving them a chance.

          But in general it is true, I think, that life experience and having had many years of listening as well, is an invaluable asset. But since music is a matter of the imagination and the inner being, there are no ‘rules’ of development.

          • FrauGeigerin says:

            While they dissapear or not, it is us (the orchestra musicians) who have to deal with them… there are a couple of young well-known conductors that when I see on the schedule I hope I catch flu on that week. Maybe they will develop – maybe not -, but isn’t there another place for them? Can’t they get more experience conducting an amateur or young orchestra before heading here?

            This is not bad just for us (after all they are gone within six days max.), and it is bad for both the music and for those who could really be using the opportunity who are more mature and equally capable but are not “young”, “upcoming”, “exciting”…

            Agencies are behind this: they lauch new “products” and they want them everywhere; they want their “products” young so they can promote them and then have them earning money for them for a long time, and they like their products young, atractive and easy to sell. Again: how is this good for our noble art?

    • Derek says:

      You are experienced and I am sure you are right to say “far too many young conductors are pushed too soon and they are not ready”.

      I agree with your point that conductors do need maturity and life’s insights and they should not be appointed to senior positions until they are equipped.

      However, there are rare cases where an individual has an unusual gift and maturity, so should not be dismissed lightly.

      Based on a rehearsal and concert, I think Makela is exceptional at his age (I go no further); time will tell whether he is successful but don’t be hasty to judge until you have an opportunity to see him.