CSO Names Klaus Mäkelä as Music Director

By Keegan Morris |

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Photo portrait of new CSO music director Klaus Mäkelä, in a dark blue suit and black shirt, with a half smile

Klaus Mäkelä (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association has named Klaus Mäkelä its next music director, the orchestra’s 11th. Following a unanimous vote by the organization’s board of trustees, Mäkelä will begin as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Zell Music Director at the beginning of the 2027-2028 season.

The 28-year-old Finnish conductor’s initial appointment is for five years. When he takes the position, he will be 31, the youngest music director in orchestra history. In the role, he will lead at least 14 weeks of CSO concerts as he presides over the orchestra in Chicago and on tour.

“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,” reflects Klaus Mäkelä in the orchestra’s announcement.

The prodigious conductor is, per the New York Times, “perhaps the fastest-rising conductor of his generation.” Hailing from Helsinki, Klaus Mäkelä currently serves as the music director of the Orchestre de Paris (since 2021) and principal conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic (since 2020). 

The phenom was recently named the Chief Conductor designate of Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. That position will also begin with the 2027-2028 season. 

The announcement discloses that Mäkelä will leave his roles in Paris and Oslo in or before 2027, in time for him to take the reins in Chicago and Amsterdam. The conductor declares that “From 2027/28 my main responsibilities will be my partnerships with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Until then I remain committed to my ongoing collaborations with the Orchestre de Paris and Oslo Philharmonic.”

The Finnish conductor is scheduled to appear with the orchestra from April 4 to 6. Mäkelä was initially scheduled to appear with pianist Yuja Wang. In Wang’s place, cellist Sol Gabetta will be making her CSO debut as soloist with Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto. The weekend’s programming will also feature Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony, as well as the US premiere of Finnish composer Sauli Zinovjev’s Batteria.

Klaus Mäkelä succeeds Riccardo Muti. The 82-year-old Italian conductor’s 13-year tenure as the orchestra’s 10th music director concluded in June 2023 with his appointment as the ensemble’s music director emeritus for life

Mäkelä represents just the fourth CSO music director in the past 55 years. The three preceding music directors served terms of at least 13 years each. 

Conductor and orchestra musicians receive the applause of the audience at Chicago's Symphony Center

Klaus Mäkelä and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra receive an ovation at Symphony Center (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)

Mäkela made his CSO conducting debut in April 2022, leading a program of Anders Hillborg, Igor Stravinsky, and Sergei Prokofiev. In February 2023, he returned to preside over music by Jimmy López Bellido, Jean Sibelius, and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. For this latter appearance, Hannah Edgar, a freelance Chicago critic, named Mäkelä the year’s best guest conductor in a year-in-review for the Chicago Tribune.

In the CSO’s recently announced 2024-2025 season, Mäkelä will lead two weeks of concerts. The first program, in late April 2025, sees the Finnish conductor leading a performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony featuring contralto Wiebke Lehmkuhl, the Chicago Symphony Chorus, and Uniting Voices Chicago. Then in May, Mäkelä will appear with another recent CSO appointment — the orchestra’s 24-25 artist-in-residence pianist Daniil Trifonov — for Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto, as well as music by Boulez and Dvořák.

The CSO shares that Mäkelä’s Chicago stints will become longer in the coming seasons leading up to the start of his music directorship. That includes a Ravinia podium debut in summer 2026.

Klaus Mäkelä remarks that “I look forward to getting to know them 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.”

Klaus Mäkelä appears with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from April 4 to April 6, 2024. For ticketing and information, or for more information on Mäkelä’s appointment, visit cso.org.

Editor’s note: Hannah Edgar is a former Andrew Patner Fellow at WFMT and occasional freelance contributor to WFMT’s digital platforms.