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Chicago Takes the Leap with Youngest Appointment in CSO History

By Michael Vincent on April 8, 2024

Klaus Mäkelä
Klaus Mäkelä

Meet the fresh face wunderkind of classical music in Chicago: 28-year-old Finnish conductor Klaus Mäkelä.

Appointed as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s next music director, Mäkelä will not officially begin until the 2027-28 season. He’s set to strike a chord in the hearts of the Windy City and Amsterdam simultaneously as he also takes on the chief conductor role for the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

With a critic-friendly, vibrant fusion of “brilliance, power, and passion,” Mäkelä is poised to weave his spell over Chicago’s music scene. His tenure agreement? Five years, promising at least 14 weeks per season, including tours.

Love at first sight

Despite only two previous engagements with the CSO, Mäkelä made a big impression, dazzling musicians, management and critics with performances that resonated long after the concerts ended.

“Mäkelä has a graceful style of conducting with easy-to-follow stick technique, using abundant facial expressions and subtle movements like leaning in and out and crouching to convey a point. He is physical but does not overdo his physicality or let it become distracting,” describes critic Kyle MacMillan.

As the youngest music director in the history of the CSO, Mäkelä’s appointment is a seismic shift in Chicago’s classical music landscape. His unique blend of contemporary charisma and classical tradition will likely result in a new, less traditional chapter for the orchestra that music lovers across the city are likely somewhat divided about.

Why it matters

Mäkelä replaces Riccardo Muti, who concluded his tenure as the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2023 after a distinguished run that began in 2010. His leadership has been celebrated for his ability to draw partnerships with the orchestra, his commitment to education, and his dedication to community engagement. Over his 13 years with the CSO, Muti has left a lasting impact on Chicago’s musical and cultural life​.

Bravo, Maestro Mäkelä, on the appointment. This could be the beginning of a legend.

Michael Vincent
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