Chicago lands a dream conductor

Chicago lands a dream conductor


norman lebrecht

April 18, 2022

Reviews of Klaus Mäkelä’s debut with the Chicago Symphony have been absolutely ecstatic, catapulting the 26 year-old Finn to frontrunner in the race to succeed Riccardo Muti.

Lawrence A Johnson in Chicago Classical Review designated it ‘a riveting performance of kaleidoscopic brilliance and whipcrack energy.’

Hedy Weiss in WTTW calls it ‘an altogether thrilling performance.’

Violist Max Raimi writes on ‘I played a brilliant concert this evening with Klaus Makela and the Chicago Symphony. I don’t believe I ever saw a 26 year old with anything like his imagination and degree of mastery on the podium.
‘It brings to mind the 1980s, when it seemed like half the infielders in Major League Baseball came from the same town in the Dominican Republic, San Pedro de Macoris.
‘Finland has approximately the same population as Cook County, Illinois, the home county of Chicago and the CSO. It is beyond remarkable how many world class conductors and composers Finland has produced in recent times.’

Mäkelä has a further date in Chicago, conducting Mahler’s 5th in February. That could be the deal-maker, although he would have to get out of contracts with one of his other orchestras, in Oslo and Paris.


  • Hg says:

    Sorry Chicago, Concertgebouw will secure Mäkelä.

    • freddynyc says:

      Yes he deserves to work with a more refined European orchestra……

      • Concertgebouw79 says:

        And I don’t think that the RCO needs a new musical director too young. Let him play twice 10 days every year every seasons with the RCO. no more. Its the best for him and for the orchestra

    • Henri says:

      The CSO sells about 25% of House. I’ve never seen so many empty seats. I refuse to show anyone my “health pass” nor will I sit there and wear a mask. So, who cares? I know they have a 300 million endowment but what does it feel like to play to an almost empty house?

      • rach3 says:

        Nice to hear from you, mr fool

      • ML says:

        Not true. I was there Thursday night in the gallery. Definitely way more than 25%. Plus, if you are not there, how do you know how many seats the CSO sold?

      • Chuck says:

        I will do whatever I have to be in the audience, it’s always a total treat — I’d rather not wear a mask, but if that’s what the CSO administration thinks is necessary, then ok. Oxymoron: I don’t know how “you’ve never seen so many empty seats” while “I refuse to show anyone my ‘health pass’ “. I’ve been to Orchestra Hall 20 times between January 6 and April 15, and I do not think anyone is getting past the entry door where the vaccination status of each entrant is checked. No exceptions as far as I can tell. Last Friday’s concert was……..super!

      • Ron Rosenbaum says:

        Of course there was a pandemic, Henri. I estimate 95% capacity last night for Lahaina Shani.

  • guest says:

    I’m pretty sure Hrusa could be counted as that good at 26 too, amongst others probably. In any case, the really good youngsters who have such musical and people-managing maturity also know not to jump into marriages with organisations they’ve just met. How about we just let things progress naturally?

  • Amos says:

    Max Raimi viola.

  • Frank says:

    “Mäkelä has a further date in Chicago, conducting Mahler’s 5th in February. That could be the deal-maker, although he would have to get out of contracts with one of his other orchestras, in Oslo and Paris.”

    Why would he want to get out of Oslo or Paris? Because in ‘Merica everything’s bigger and better?

    • Hugo Preuß says:

      Well, the pay is better. Probably *much* better. On the other hand, in Europe you don’t have to suck up to rich donors in order to fund your orchestra.

    • msc says:

      Yeah, Chicago is the best orchestra of the three, but I suspect I’d rather be in Paris (given a good salary) than Chicago.

    • John Kelly says:

      Well yes, if you’re referring to the Chicago Symphony………………however before hiring Mr Makela, I recommend listening to his new Sibelius cycle. I am unimpressed.

      • Alexander Hall says:

        It’s astonishing how he divides the critics. Those in the UK, including BBC R3, have been drooling all over him, whereas David Hurwitz in an online video have been utterly withering. On the basis of a single LPO concert last autumn, I fail to see what all the fuss is about.

        • Chicagorat says:

          The fuss is about a real conductor in town after twelve years of Muti curse. Please be kind and let us celebrate for at least a week, and let us hope.

          Two truly miraculous nights. Snapping out of the Italian Stallion’s dark curse, we witnessed glimpses of the CSO lost glory, and we even read a piece by Ms. Weiss that resembles serious reporting.

          It may just be the start of a new era.

          Now try to keep up the good work, Ms. Weiss, when Muti is back next week. Don’t be intimidated by him. Just tell the truth.

          • Listener says:

            Don’t be ridiculous. Muti is the first great conductor there since Reiner. Nobody listens to Solti or Barenboim whereas Muti has left *dozens* of reference recordings — not necessarily in the central orchestral repertory or with the CSO but enough to secure his place among the *greats* for generations to come. Chicago’s history is enhanced by his name whether you or Lothario Hunter or CSOA Insider like it or not.

          • Chicagorat says:

            Whoa whoa take it easy buddy. I’m not here to pick a fight. Reasonable observers can *always* find a common ground.

            Muti has *enhanced* Chicago’s history, I’ll give you that. He has *enhanced* it in exactly the same way in which Bill Clinton enhanced the history of the White House.

            Happy? 😉

          • Frank says:

            If concert-goers were so occupied with conductors “leaving reference recordings for generations to come”, they would not be concert goers, since performing on stage and cutting a recording are two radically different things. Incidentally I believe Solti has “left” a couple of recordings, too, among which a little ditty called The Ring. (Not that I’m a fan.) And maybe DB too, I don’t know, I’m not part of those generations to come.

          • Listener says:

            Frank, don’t be snobby about recordings. Live is better of course but millions of listeners have access *only* through recordings.

            And you and I are a “generation to come” for conductors like Talich or Reiner, some of whose work (Má vlast, Don Quixote) has no equal.

          • MK says:

            Muti has not left a single “reference recording” that he made in Chicago. Almost all of what he did there was a rehash of what he has done in Philly or Vienna or elsewhere, with no marked improvement. Muti has always had a rather limited orchestral repertoire and has not expanded much beyond that during his tenure in Chicago. Even within the first few of seasons, you started seeing repeat programming from prior seasons. Everything was very polished, but rarely memorable. It is much to be hoped that the CSO has the wisdom to take a risk on a young conductor with unlimited potential, instead of repeating its past mistake and hiring a name brand “star” who has already maxed out.

          • Henry williams says:

            Since Reiner Muti has been the
            Best conductor they have had.

          • Sam says:

            Speak for yourself. I gain tremendous satisfaction listening to Solti and Barenboim recordings.

    • Timmy says:

      $$$.. that’s what ‘Merica is, and always has been, about

      • Herr Forkenspoon says:

        it is difficult to tar a whole nation with one brush. There are many people, in all spheres, who do what they do for the love of doing it and if they earn a large amount of money then that is a benefit and if they don’t, they continue doing what they do.

  • Monsoon says:

    The Oslo contract is only for three seasons, and he’s already halfway done — 2022-2023 is the final season.

    • Jouko900 says:

      The Oslo Philharmonic has announced a four-year contract extension with their new Chief Conductor and Artistic Adviser, Klaus Mäkelä, ahead of the start of his first season with the Orchestra, taking the partnership to a total of seven seasons to come.

      • Monsoon says:

        I missed that.

        I see that his Paris commitment is only 12 weeks a season. Even if he spends a lot of time in Oslo, it seems like he can take on a third orchestra, even if he has to start out with only a 12 or 15 week commitment.

        • JB says:

          Does it make sense to have three orchestras ? Can a musical director leave a mark in only 12 weeks a year ? I don’t buy the idea that some genius conductor can change an orchestra with a couple of rehearsals. This needs patient work over years.

          • Monsoon says:

            Why not? Most conductors hold three posts. Paris is already a light commitment. And it’s not like the CSO is in need of rebuilding.

  • Andrew Powell says:

    It’s funny how these people always make their bids with the big pieces: Mäkelä with Mahler 5, Jurowski with Shosty 7, Thielemann with Bruckner 8, Hrůša with Mahler 9 (all in the CSO’s next season). The mark of a great candidate, though, would be in unselfish programming: in Mozart, Berg, a short choral work, soloist collaborations. The present executive director, or “CEO,” should be telling the New York agents what he and the orchestra want to hear, not letting them furnish and hog entire nights. Besides, Mahler-conducting is always a useless gauge.

    • Achim Mentzel says:

      Could not agree more!

    • Monsoon says:

      I don’t see the issue with Mahler. He’s going to be played every season. The musicians have played the 5th for many different conductors. And unlike Mozart, Mahler pulls out the full orchestra.

      • Monsoon says:

        I mean fazed.

      • Frankster says:

        I’m so old… how old am I? A teenager, I took my new 33rpm recording of Mahler’s Forth for Bernstein to sign after a concert. This was when Mahler was little known. Lenny was surprised and asked me how I liked this post-Romantic, mostly unperformed composer. Bruckner was also invisible in those days.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Perhaps he just wants to do Mahler 5 with Chicago – who wouldn’t! He may not view as ‘putting in a bid’ at all.

    • swy says:

      It speaks volumes that the CSO has invited Hrusa and Mäkelä back for Mahler (9 and 5, respectively). This has been a Mahler orchestra for quite some time. Strauss too, hence Mikko Frank’s program.

  • zayin says:

    Not gonna happen.

    He might be brilliant for a 26 year old, but he doesn’t outshine other candidates for the job, and for an organization like the CSO, a proven track record matters, and one can only build a track record through decades of results, of being brilliant not only at 26, but at 36, and at 46, and at 56, then they are ready for Chicago.

    Solti was appointed to Chicago when he was 56.

    • sam says:

      I agree, look at Dudamel, I mean *really* look at Dudamel, what has he really accomplished in terms of product since heading Los Angeles, I don’t mean his personal career trajectory which follows the logic of marketing and hype, but his substantive body of work.

      • kh says:

        That he built on Salonen’s work, enriched LA Phil’s sound, and made it arguably the best American orchestra is not enough of a “product” for you? For me anyway LA Phil seems to be the only American orchestra that consistently plays with a soul and I feel it’s due in no small part to Dudamel.

        • mary says:

          Dudamel does a mean Mambo from West Side Story, that’s about it.

          • kh says:

            Given how some Americans treasure their extraordinarily boring orchestral machines as if they are the world’s best (see this thread) I’m not surprised they can’t tell what sets LA Phil and Dudamel apart from the rest either.

            KUSC is broadcasting their recent Mahler’s Fourth, BTW. It’s still available on demand.

      • Violinophile says:

        I feel I must ask, how many Dudamel concerts have you actually attended? Do not underestimate him. The orchestra plays with greater warmth and richness for him than since Giulini was here. We could do better, but not that easily.

    • Monsoon says:

      Dudamel began his tenure with LA when he was 28. That worked so well that I doubt anyone is phased by Mäkelä’s age.

  • MacroV says:

    It’s hard for me to imagine the CSO hiring that young a music director, no matter how impressive he may be. And would it even make sense for him at this stage of his career? He leads two excellent orchestras; should stick with those.

    • Herr Forkenspoon says:

      I find it interesting that so many people “know” what’s best for someone else. Authoritarianism is on the rise worldwide.

  • James Weiss says:

    Vasily Petrenko. Not sure why they’re not considering him. His Oslo recordings are stupendous.

  • Lothario Hunter says:

    Scores of chaps out there will now jump the gun and start comparing Maestro Makela with Muti, and that would be so wrong. Comparing a gleaming, zestful, kaleidoscopic 26-year-old phenomenon with an 81-year-old somber train wreck permanently exhausted by post and preconcert exertions is ungenerous. An ounce of fairness is in order and I am therefore preemptively coming to Muti’s defenses over here.

    Once impartiality is properly restored, we would still need to go back to the urgent question of what to do with the CSO circus. If I were Bill Osborn, and I am not so I’m purely speculating, if I were him I’d not wait for next winter, I’d put the gigantic Northern Trust wallet to better use than he has has to-date, and lock Maestro Klaus into a 10-year golden contract right away. Now, not next winter. Now. In parallel, I’d just ask Muti to pull the plug on the “happy hours”. Not on ethical ground or because Cathy seems to be frowning upon them – let’s not kid ourselves I would still see the world through the Northern Trust “ethical” lenses, not McDonald’s to mention a meaningful benchmark that randomly comes to mind – but in the desperate hope that Muti would once in a while show up at Symphony Center with a detectable pulse on the podium, so as to limit the financial disaster that his remaining residences are going to bring in terms of lost ticket sales.

    Give me a call, Bill.

  • Mock Mahler says:

    Slipped Disc’s coverage of the Chicago post has given me whiplash.

  • George Young says:

    Oh please, not yet another hyperbolic fantasy blurb!

    I attended one of these two performances last week and came away thinking that the kid did a fine job across the board for what he was dealing with, yet nothing not seen before.

    As for our forthcoming music director opening, I’d take a compatible young wunderkind over another ‘Grand Old Man’ most all the time.

    Then there’s the option of going for just a bit more seasoning, experience and maturity, while still bringing in a breath of fresh air.

    I’m greatly anticipating hearing 41-year-old Karina Canellakis here in a month’s time. In an opinion formed thus far from afar, to me she would seem to have what it takes.

    • perturbo says:

      Makela is coming to Cleveland this week (his third appearance); Shostakovich 10, Sibelius Vn Concerto. From what I’ve heard, the orchestra has been impressed with him (it takes a lot to impress them). And he’s scheduled to return next season for Mahler 5. BTW, if you want to see a taste of Makela with soloists and orchestra, check out the YouTube videos with the Copland Clarinet Concerto (RCOA) and Shostakovich 14 (Frankfurt Radio Symphony).

    • NYMike says:

      I’ve heard/seen Karina. She’s the real deal.

      • Kman says:

        She’s clearly doing well in Amsterdam, and I’m sure she’ll continue to move up the ranks. But… I listened to an interview that she did with Gilbert, Harding, and Rattle near the beginning of COVID cancellations, and I couldn’t have been less impressed with the depth of her conversation. Shocked really. It’s a sample size of 1, so who knows, but I’d assume she would leave musicians unimpressed if that’s her typical conversational ability.

  • Couperin says:

    His Sibelius cycle sucks! Honestly.. it does.

  • Midwestern Violin says:

    As much as I would love it, and trust me I really would, one has to be realistic here. What makes people think that a young rising star of the podium with the world at his feet would willingly associate himself with the cluster that the CSO has become? Money is not everything. I’d stay the heck away if I was him.

    Another point is, we bring up Osborn, I’ve done it too, and he is certainly guilty of having been historically one of the strongest Muti supporters, but his position is now mostly honorary. How does Gorno, Zell (still very much active), Alexander all get a pass in this ridiculous brand tarnishing mess?

  • Fenway says:

    The young Finn is a rising star for sure. Anders Hillborg is a wonderful composer who should be performed more in the US. I am heading from Miami to Detroit this Thursday to hear the US premiere of his Cello Concerto.

  • Plush says:

    In my opinion, the three critics mentioned fail in their ambition to be arbiters of taste. They are not really taken seriously nor do they have the excellent taste and genuine knowledge of someone like the late great Andrew Patner. I do not count any writer from the orchestra itself.

    So I certainly see this headline as jumping the gun.

  • fflambeau says:

    Very talented but likely too young for Chicago.

  • Herr Forkenspoon says:

    Maybe Chicago wants to hire him, in his youth, because he’s cheaper now.

  • music lover says:

    These “experts”on SD remind me of the thousands of football coaches sitting in pubs ,watching the world cup games on the big TV screen…..