5 dumb questions for a maestro with nothing to say

5 dumb questions for a maestro with nothing to say


norman lebrecht

July 18, 2020

The Orchestre de Paris introduces its new music director, the young Finn Klaus Mäkelä.

He speaks no French. And he has nothing much to say in English.


photo OdeP


  • Paul says:

    Sums up the miserable state in which classical music and opera are today… and this is certainly not because of Corona…
    It degraded so much in the past years, with no real personalities on stage, with “political correctness” prevailing over real talent, with 35 yo artists offering masterclasses (as if they had lots of experience and already had finished their career) and the list continues… very sad

  • Geigerin says:

    Which 5 of the 18 questions he answered does NL consider dumb?
    Intelligent and sensitive answers to all the “dumb” questions.
    I don’t think the musicians of either orchestra of Paris or Oslo will care what language he speaks to them.

    What is your point?

    • Amos says:

      Regrettably, there seems to be a direct correlation between the editor’s access to a conductor/musician and the frequency of critical/snide commentary.

    • Maria says:

      Out of courtesy he should at least majevit clear he is learning French, and then be able to communicate in the language of the world, namely English. That’s the minimum. Never been easier or cheaper to learn a foreign language! Fat lot of use is Norwegan in France!

  • Myrtar says:

    That was easily the most boring 3 minutes of the year. Couldn’t bring myself to watch everything, but I’m confident I didn’t miss anything.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The difficulty with such clips is that the orchestra wants to raise audiences’ interest in a new MD in a more personal way, to make the persona of the conductor more human and accessible instead of some mysterious but silent figure who somehow makes it all happen on the platform. But for the conductor it is impossible to become truly personal, since that would immediately strain relationships with staff, players, the trombone player who hates Fins, the agent who wants stability, not to speak of the intimate relations the conductor has to protect. Imagine a conductor in such clip would say: ‘I love this orchestra because they pay more than my former assignment, I can finally perform Brahms II and had the chance to refuse the Beethoven cycle since I really don’t like that stuff, and besides my agent and my girlfriend pressed me, and she wants to dine at Maxims next month. And I’ll try to get programs without trombones for the foreseeable future’. Accessible yes, but to what end? It would be pointless.

      • TubaMinimum says:

        Social media has changed the way we relate to celebrities, actors, politicians, and musicians of all genres. People want to feel like they know figures as individuals who they were once content to just watch in their carefully controlled professional space and that is definitely impacting the classical music space.

        Donors have always felt this way, and getting the chance to have a cocktail with a violinist, watch a rehearsal to hear them work out little details of a piece, or attend a luncheon where the MD says a few words was worth ponying up for. And it makes sense. Giving is an emotional thing, and anything that strengthens that relationship helps open up the pocketbook even more. Some MDs are magnetic and are a gift to fundraisers and marketers, so it makes sense to splash them on social media. Some might grow into that, and you should try not to overexpose them too soon on social media. Some might be the silent, cold, but brilliant curmudgeons who you stick on a poster but try to keep from talking to a little old lady thinking about putting the orchestra in her will for fear of that conversation going very poorly.

    • The View from America says:

      This might be worse — and it’s almost twice the length too, so double the pleasure.


  • Frank says:

    How do you know that he speaks no french?

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    But he’ll Look ‘hot’ though stood by the Lamborghini in his LV trainers when they’ve retouched his image for their Social Media platforms. And that’s what really matters nowadays. As to what he does in the Concert Hall? Well, in current circumstances we’re unlikely to ever know any time soon.

  • RW2013 says:

    Not 5 but 18 🙁
    Listening to these people talk about their “art” has become as tedious as actually watching them practise it.

  • Tired says:

    Yesterday the Orchestre de Paris posted a truly heartwarming video of the orchestra returning to the stage after months of silence. The applause went on for minutes and the orchestra was visibly moved.

    Instead of posting that video, you chose to attack a young conductor for not speaking a language yet(though he already speaks at least 2) in a job he got a month ago. We are in the midst of a pandemic that is an existential threat to the health and safety of the entire world, not to mention an existential threat to the existence of the industry which pays your salary. We can either choose to uplift or to tear down. I know which helps me sleep better at night.

  • Karajon says:

    Watching his concert with the orchestra (https://live.philharmoniedeparis.fr/concert/1114688/?jwsource=cl&fbclid=IwAR1x-X0PMrmNwNX_OHVfq8bL9bFhA9-os-_fadvVgAqoSbFPPMI4keS34B8), which was terribly boring, lack of initiative and little to no response from the orchestra, plus this interview, one thing I can say: I have a bad feeling about this.

    • Doug Grant says:

      The Beethoven 7 is lifeless. No comparison with, eg, Karina Canellakis. Makela is to be MD of 2 major European orchestras but to be honest hasn’t yet worked out how to interpret the classics. He may have great potential but has a long way to go. How crazy! There are many very fine experienced conductors much readier for jobs like Oslo and Paris.

      • Frankster says:

        Why are you so out of touch? His Beethoven 9th with the Oslo has got 2.8 million hits.

        • Frankster says:

          Here is Le Figaro today:
          Quelle soirée! Trois semaines après l’annonce de sa nomination comme directeur musical de l’Orchestre de Paris, déjà un très joli coup, Klaus Mäkelä, 24 ans, était à la Philharmonie en chair et en os. Deux semaines après la Maison de la radio, l’auditorium de la porte de Pantin rouvrait ses portes au public. Généreusement: dans la grande salle Pierre-Boulez, occuper un siège sur deux représente tout de même 1200 auditeurs! Si affamés et assoiffés de musique vivante que leur enthousiasme bouillonnant a transmis aux musiciens une forme d’ivresse….

  • Anon says:

    Maybe he’d have more to say if he were to actually be asked some decent questions. He’s a brilliant conductor, regardless.

  • sam says:

    The vacuity of the young man: he could be on a skateboard in a skate park in Paris, and his responses would not be any better (“I like new music I like very old music”).

    The cynicism of management: let’s try our hands on social media to ask the stupidest questions of our new music director to reach stoned skate boarders skating on the Philharmonie steps.

    The panic of the orchestra: OMG we’re old and we’re irrelevant, what can we do to rejuvenate ourselves and be hip, oh, let’s hire a 17 year old who dresses like my grand father.

    The insult to Daniel Harding: “is that what they saw in ME when they hired me, a snotty young punk, and is this my heir?”

  • Karl says:

    There is nothing wrong with being honest.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    That is bit harsh. The questions are rather silly, but his answers are alright. My only issue is his love of Russian classics in literature. Both Tolstoy (in particular) and Dostoyevsky to some extent are quite repulsive writers in their peculiar sort of Eastern spirituality. Anton Chekhov is alright.

  • Nick says:


  • Barry Guerrero says:

    I think he handles these annoying questions very well. Typical of most anyone from Scandinavia, his English is excellent.

  • Patrick says:

    Oh, it’s not so bad when taken all together. He’s likeable, humble and seems thoughtful. It’s a fluff piece, sure, to introduce him to the general public. If Norman were to interview him the questions would be better and I suspect the answers would be, too.

  • BeBetter says:

    He usually appears to be better, on or off the stage. Unfortunately this is one of his worst appearances.

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    He is 24. He might be a fine musician. Of course he has nothing to say: he has not lived enough. Still, he holds a major music “conductorship”. That’s the world we live in.

    • HerrGeiger says:

      Why do you think he has nothing to say because he’s young? Is that what you think of young people in general, that they have nothing to contribute? And what about older conductors, do you really believe all of them have so much to give because of their age?

      As a professional orchestral musician, I have performed under scores of conductors in their 50s and 60s who literally have nothing to say, and with some conductors in their 20s and 30s who are true artists and bring a lot to the table.

      Prejudice against individuals based on generalizations, like you just did – now that’s the world we live in.

  • Henry williams says:

    His english is very good. I wish i could speak another language so fluently.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed. I’ve tried Mongolian, Bulgarian and Mandarin, but it appeared more difficult than I initially thought.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Other languages can be quite tricky, especially when on tour. As well-known cellist [redacted] told me the other day: I have enough Thai to get through a menu, but got into terrible difficulties when I tried to get one of our quartet members out of custody in Bangkok.

  • Fiddlist says:

    It’s impossible to say, but maybe it should be someone else with that job.

  • Gauthier S. says:

    Thank you so much for saying it out loud.

  • Luca says:

    The more they speak the less they provide. No names, no pack drill.

  • Albertncer says:

    Wow, he has the same level of eloquence as Dudamel. When did we go from conductors being the pinnacle of culture ledership to being young MTV pop-like stars with no rhetoric skills, questionable knowledge, and for whom the “coolest” music is whatever they are working on that week? Good Lord, have mercy!

  • PHF says:

    I don’t know this guy, but only few good musicians have much to say. If you watch the known series of interviews conducted by a pianist on YouTube it is not difficult to see big names saying a lot of non-sense about music and life. Many of them are not very bright. I don’t care much about the rethoric, just the music.

  • Brettermeier says:

    “5 dumb questions for a maestro with nothing to say”

    Of course, the questions are stupid. What did you expect in an introduction? What would a great and sophisticated answer look like to “your favorite french dish”?

    “French fries” would have been funny, though.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    The Finns use to be very quiet. Listen to his work instead.

  • Bostin'Symph says:

    He was a little handicapped by the questions put to him, and some of them were decidedly off piste for a musician. I suspect most of us would not have handled them as well as he did when we were his age. At least he didn’t say that for his alternative career he’d like to be an airline pilot!

  • observationist says:

    I’m not sure why you have to be so insulting. If you feel he had nothing to say, why post it at all?

  • alexy says:

    Probably I’m dumb to, because I found his answer to those maybe weak questions interesting and deep. I can understand through his answers who this guy is and look forward to see and hear him life

  • Peter says:

    Seriously? No opinion, no ideas, nothing to say.

  • Anton Bruckner says:

    This is really an astounding demonstration of cliches with zero intellectual value casting serious doubts on the nomination and more importantly on the role of orchestras nowadays. The ODP is an important orchestra which has no contribution to make towards development of western culture.

    • The View from America says:

      The OdP might have a contribution to make if it spent more of its efforts on exploring neglected French music — of which there’s quite a bit of very good material. Its June 2018 “Reves d’Orient” concerts featuring pieces by Roussel, Koechlin and others were an artistic and audience success. But I’m sure we won’t be seeing anything like that coming from the baton of Klaus Makela — instead more Mahler, Shostakovich and other predictable, done-to-death repertoire.

  • John Rook says:

    What has anyone new to say at such a young age?

  • OperaFan says:

    He is however a fabulous young conductor…

  • Heifetz63 says:

    Don’t judge him by this interview. He is forced by the Management to do things like that. Marketing tool, you know? Klaus Mäkelä is one of the few in his generation, who exactly know what he want to achive on the podium. Huge talent. Period.

    • Karajon says:

      Did you see his concert with the orchestra? It was very disappointing.

      • Leonard says:

        I disagree. His work on the Beethoven was very interesting, and it was manifestly evident that the orchestra responded with musical playing.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    Considering how vapid some of the questions are, I’m impressed that he came up with any substance at all. He seems like a good fellow; I hope he’s also a good conductor (never yet having heard any of his work).

  • Nomath says:

    The mathematician Alan Turing invented the Turing Test as a way to discriminate whether an invisible respondent on the other side of a communication line is a human or a machine stuffed with artificial intelligence. These answers to 18 questions suggest that there is a robot hiding under an arty dress.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I heard from my own agent that indeed M’s agency has three Japanese-designed robots impersonating their conductors to turn-up for marketing exercises, which saves time and relieves the burden from their hardworking performers. The robots are well-prepared for interviews and video clips, talking at the level required by the marketing dept. of the various orchestras, and it all works fine and everybody is happy as long as nobody sees through the ruse. The real Makela is quite another person.

  • psq says:

    Finns themselves describe one of their national characteristic as being taciturn.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed, every country has its typical mental characteristics, due to history, climate and diet. That is why we never hear anything being said by an Andorrian, because there, all inhabitants never utter a word whatsoever.

  • Anon says:

    Maybe he’d have something to say if were to be asked a decent question or two..

  • DG says:

    My 6th-grader has classmates who look older than him. Has anyone heard him conduct, is he anything special?

  • Jack Pudding says:

    I got bored quite quickly…

  • Miguel says:

    Dear Norman, This reflects on the individuals that put this video together, not on Klaus. A great team can even make *you* look like a genius ;-), or even someone infinitely less interesting like me. A bad team can make you look pitiful (even if you really are not). I could only withstand a couple of minutes of this “échec total”; it should never have been produced let alone released. I am sure that, in the right hands, we would be able to appreciate the essence of Klaus through a video message. This was a disservice to him and to his mission with the orchestra. “Très mauvais. Zéro points. Au suivant.”

  • Nijinsky says:

    He says, without making it sound grandiose, that he’d like to be able to go back in history and be there at the premier of the works we hear and play today. Then also saying that he’d like to do the same for this time, to introduce works. Quite a commendable statement. Maybe it’s because I’m listening to the free Met streaming of Figaro, but what he says has something of the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro in it, wishing the good times were back. That would be wonderful, in contrast to everyone wanting to put their mark on conveniently dead composers, while living a politically correct lifestyle that wouldn’t have allowed such genuine expression. I wish him well.

  • will says:

    ‘No comment’ seems to be fair comment in the circumstances. What on earth have we come to in the music profession (I’m avoiding the word ‘industry’) when kids who are ‘wet behind the ears’ are put in charge of major orchestras?

  • Iain Scott says:

    Fortunately his music making says a lot more

  • IP says:

    I think the young man should get dressed before speaking in public. I don’t expect him to be a smooth talker because musicians who brilliantly discuss music are often unable to play it well (I won’t mention examples). Also, it pays to be careful and say little because they are so many strange people out there ready to mob you.

  • fred says:

    geeezzz it is not that bad, it’s just a trifle and moreover some of the answers aren’t that bad, what do you expect a Schopenhauer analyses? Give him a break. He should fix his teeth though if looks are so important

    • Max Grimm says:

      As for his teeth, they still look better than those of recipients of the „Hollywood“ treatment, making it appear as though they have 40 teeth in their mouths, so bleached that they could blind you from Mars.
      While I know virtually nothing about him, I’d still rather attend an OdP concert with Mäkelä conducting, than an OdP concert with Harding (with the fixed teeth 😉 ) conducting.

  • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    I just throw this in for comic relief, and I take no credit for the quote which comes from Esa Pekka Solonen the first time I heard it:

    What is the difference between a Finnish introvert and a Finnish extrovert ?

    When he speaks to you, the introvert looks at his shoes. but the extrovert looks at YOUR shoes.

    L’Orchestre de Paris eats conductors for breakfast, I hope this guy survives at least until lunch.

  • M.Arnold says:

    Don’t remember where I read this:
    In Finland an introvert is someone who looks at his shoes while talking to you. An extrovert is someone who looks at your shoes while talking to you.

    • Edgar Self says:

      M. Arnold, touche and chapeau for your Finnish introvert-extravert distinction. I’m steali on motng it right after I polish my shoes. Ten points if yocn explain to me why half of this riposte is in French.

      Taciturn Finns prefer the ccollective idenitty of Finnoscandian to Scandinavian, or vice-versa, or te reverse of the opposite, a Finn assures me. They’re famous for depictions of flat mountains, settling Minnesota and counting the 10,000e lakes, paying their US DGreat War debt, being a Russian grand duchy and Swedish ro province, after a time when Old Norway smote the sledded Polacks on the ice, right after I Finnish my Danish.

      William Trotter’s novel “Winter Fire” blends Sibelius with German conductor Ziegler. a powerfu Firtwaemgler vigne, Marshal Baron Mannerheim, and German protective occupation contra the Russians, a critical sauna scene than which there is no other to hurl yourself into a snowbank outside, much as “La Divina” C;audia <uzio, Ste. Cecelia, and composer Fr. Licinio Refice have itm after Muzio's cardiac-aresting parlando: "Cecilia leaves the hypocraust and enters thecalidarium",ending me to the OED.

      Robert Ford's similarly brilliant novel "The Student Conductor has a failed genius conductor named Ziegler, a powerful Furtwaengler ccoonexion, and an, er, sminal? scene in a sauna. Neither Ford, Trotter, nor I can explain this, and DF. alas is no longer available.

  • DAVID says:

    I frankly don’t care about the media aspect of this — in my opinion any such endeavors, for the most part, are utterly vapid and irrelevant, no matter how entertaining or how “instagrammable” the Q&A session might be. He is, however, a major talent — the kind of talent you might see once in a generation, at the very most. He is young, but already displays more depth musically than many of the older names whose reputation has been based on sheer hype. This, of course, assumes one still has ears to listen and is not being seduced by superficial factors having nothing to do with music itself.

  • Francesco Maria Colombo says:

    What he can say is irrelevant. He is simply, in the opinion of thousands of musicians worldwide, the major talent of his generation. By far. As humbly as I can say it, I served for many years as music critic of Corriere della Sera and never met a conductor of his age so talented and mature.

  • Enquiring Mind says:

    Why are people talking smack about this guy? He is a young, happy Finn, with a good job. Too much smiling? The benign background music? What is the problem?

  • fflambeau says:

    This whole thing seems to me unfair to the young man.

    I’m sure he’s bright and can learn French fairly easily. Give him a chance.

  • Jay says:

    It is not in a miserable state ,it has to have meaning to be
    in any sort of state ,it has none.It is all a social event with
    whatever composer is flavor of the moment .Every thing is played over and over until you are numb…………….
    this conductor is as close to a nightmare as you can get… just watch how every move is choreographed,it is frightening and at the same time admirable,the hours and hours spent to move just so with every phrase in case the audience missed the sound they would “see” it.One comes away feeling that if the orchestra was absent one could easily tell what he was conducting just by his choreography.Quite an astonishing performance.

  • From the inside says:

    The smack is not about him. Klaus Mäkelä is a good guy and talented musician. It’s just become a hype that’s gone too far, even if he has deserved a big deal.

    The smack is about HarrisonParrott, who is pushing him everywhere, past others who had been waiting for their turn for years – and now lost their momentum again because of him. It’s all become about him, his alikes and the women, and there’s no space for alternative stories in classical music. And why do you have to consume all out of him while he’s fresh? The previous Finnish wunderkinds by HarrisonParrott have become alcoholics and/or (life) management disasters. Hopefully they can handle this one more moderately – the schedule to come for Mäkelä however looks disasterlike.

    The smack is also about all the organisations from Turku Festival to OdP who are only using Klaus Mäkelä’s face for promotion but speak almost nothing about their own artistic content. Just read Turku Music Festival’s FB-site and it’s all about Klaus Mäkelä’s concert reviews around the world – how about the festival content itself?

    Eventually, it will take time for all of us – the audience, orchestras and Mäkelä himseld – to realise, like in a relationship, what is the real beef in what he does and what electrifies us, so why not wait a couple of more years and then make these massive career moves and massive judgements?

    But everyone seems to be in a rush to wet their pants…

    • The View from America says:

      “But everyone seems to be in a rush to wet their pants…”

      If by that you mean “cream their shorts,” then — yes.

    • Frankster says:

      Insider? His Beethoven 9th with Oslo Phil has 2.7 million Youtube hits so far – i.e. he is already a major conducting star. Few commenters here seem to understand that under-50yo audiences exist.

      • From the inside says:

        Exactly. Youtube hits and exposure seem to be the only things that matter. Agencies boost for these, and it seems there is some kind of a cartel in classical music between certain institutions and agencies. Under 30-year old female conductors without any career give masterclasses about how they became conductors etc. This business is sick and has not much to do with creative art anymore.

        I’ve watched the one Beet 9 by Mäkelä you’re referring to. It’s a fine performance, but there are other equally fine performances from different artists and orchestra. I can’t remember what would’ve made Mäkelä’s interpretation of Beet 9 particularly special. Of course he’s young so hats off that he’s more mature than average and has well-studied gestures that are not disturbing (nor giving much either to) the orchestra, and has the most poweful agency in the world to get to conduct wherever they want.

        But Mikko Franck – supreme to Mäkelä and many others mentioned on this thread – was conducting electrifying and mesmerizing performances at 19 yrs old – and still is (as well as being a bad boy), with or without HarrisonParrott. It’s not about the age.

  • Paul M says:

    Very good answers to the silly and very lame “whats your favourite…” questions.

    Language doesn’t matter. The most important thing is to be understood.

  • Frankster says:

    Does anyone think that everyone who conducts an orchestra in France needs to speak French? And it’s the same in every country. English is the common international language.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Still with Finnoscandian conductors and composers while EFinnishing my Danish (Ich bin ein Berliner), a critic upbraided Howard Hanson for “the oseudo-Sib)lian slush of his ‘Romantic’ symphony”.
    ‘.” Soon after he spotted the critic at an Eastman-Rochester affair and bearded him in a onvenient corner.”You called my ‘Romantic’ symphony pseudo-Sibelian slush. You are mistaken. That would be my ‘Nordic’ symphony.”

  • Alasdair Munro says:

    I heard him conduct the Mozart Requiem in Edinburgh last year. I enjoyed the experience.

  • Jean.C says:

    Why this gossip? Good luck and meet you next saison

  • Alexander Platt says:

    …at this age, I believe that von Karajan was Kapellmeister in Ulm…..maybe First Kapellmeister by then, but I’m not sure.

  • Leonardo Bautista says:

    Chief Conductor & Artistic Advisor: Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra (from 2020/21)

    Principal Guest Conductor: Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra

    Artist in Association: Tapiola Sinfonietta

    Artistic Director: Turku Music Festival

    and now l’Orchestre de Paris.

    This is not the time to be hoarding orchestras. There will be less to go around once this health crisis is over. As the manager of a conductor, I have to complain about a small group of conductors occupying too much space, especially when it is becoming even more reduced.