Watch CBS News

Chicago Symphony Orchestra names Klaus Mäkelä as new music director

Chicago Symphony Orchestra names new music director
Chicago Symphony Orchestra names new music director 00:26

CHICAGO (CBS/AP) -- The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has announced its new music director, Finnish conductor Klaus Mäkelä, who will become the youngest person to ever hold the position in the ensemble's 133-year history.

Mäkelä, 28, will take over immediately as music director designate, and will begin his official five-year tenure as music director in September 2027, when he will conduct the orchestra for at least 14 weeks a year – 10 weeks of concerts in the Chicago area and 4 weeks of tours in the U.S. and around the world.

"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," Mäkelä said in a statement. "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."

Chicago Orchestra Director
Klaus Mäkelä, new director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, poses for a portrait Wednesday, March 20, 2024, at the Mandarin Oriental in New York. Frank Franklin II / AP

He'll be the youngest music director for a major orchestra in the U.S. since Gustavo Dudamel started with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at age 28 in 2009. Mäkelä will be 31 years old when he starts as full-time music director in 2027, making him the youngest head of the orchestra. The orchestra's second music director, Frederick Stock, was 32 when he started his tenure in 1905.

Mäkelä previously served as the chief conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic and the Orchestre de Paris. He has worked with CSO twice before, first in 2022 for performances of Stravinsky's score for "The Firebird," and again last year for performances of Mahler's Symphony No. 5.

He replaces Riccardo Muti, who spent 13 years as music director at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra before retiring last year, just shy of his 82nd birthday.

Mäkelä will take over an orchestra far older than he is. Among 93 members, Muti made 32 appointments and Daniel Barenboim 28, with most of the remainder by Georg Solti. Principal trombone Jay Friedman and harpist Lynne Turner were hired by Fritz Reiner, music director from 1953-62.

"What I like about Chicago Symphony is there is quite a big part of it which still sounds like it sounded with Reiner," Mäkelä said.

Mäkelä's hiring comes at a time when several other major U.S. institutions have upcoming podium vacancies, including the Cleveland Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Opera and San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. As music director of a U.S. orchestra, Mäkelä's role will include a fundraising component.

"I don't think it will actually be so drastically different from the work in Amsterdam and in Paris," he said. "In Oslo we have 100% of the funding is from the state and zero is private but then already in Amsterdam it's 50-50 and there's a lot of work to be done, and it's also very much in my interest because then we can achieve things together if we find the right partnerships."

Mäkelä played cello as a child — his father was a cello teacher and his mother a piano instructor. He remembers attending concerts given by Finnish conductor Hannu Lintu in Helsinki and decided his future vocation when he was 7 and singing in the children's chorus at the Finnish National Opera in Bizet's "Carmen." He was riveted while watching the conductor on a backstage monitor.

"It sounds like a silly story, but it's really true — from that moment," Mäkelä said.

Studying cello at the Sibelius Academy, he took a conducting class with Jorma Panula, whose pupils have included Esa-Pekka Salonen and Susanna Mälkki. He was first included as a Helsinki Philharmonic cellist when he was 15, then was asked to conduct. He first conducted the Oslo Philharmonic in May 2018, and a string of debuts followed. He made his first Berlin Philharmonic appearance in April 2023 and is to make his Vienna Philharmonic debut this December. Decca Classics signed him as an exclusive recording artist in 2021, a rarity in 21st century classical music.

With all the symphonic work, Mäkelä has found little time for opera, where one-to-two-month stays are the norm.

He lives in Helsinki but hadn't been there this year until late March. Mäkelä spends most of his time in Paris and Oslo, and getting scores to the right location proves time-consuming.

"I have FedEx and DHL and UPS all the time, and of course I always forget the score," he said. "I want to have my own scores because I write things."

He already is thinking about his initial programs in Chicago.

"It needs to be something which is a very clear start, a clear new chapter," he said. "It needs to be music which keeps both me and the orchestra a little bit on our toes, because this needs to be everything else than comfort zone."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.