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July 26, 2020

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Classical music whizz takes genre by storm

HE is the new wunderkind of classical music. At only 24, the young Finn Klaus Makela has been appointed musical director of the Orchestre de Paris.

While he may seem head-spinningly young for such a post, Makela has actually been training to be a conductor since he was 12.

“I must confess it is relatively uncommon,” the modest millennial admitted when asked about taking on the baton so young.

Also a brilliant cellist, he did himself no harm by wowing audiences in the French capital last year with a rapturously received concert.

The age question in a profession dominated by gray heads is not something that bothers a man who was named chief conductor of the much sought-after Oslo Philharmonic two years ago.

“I never thought of it, but I was very lucky because I’ve been conducting every week since I was 12,” said Makela, a graduate of the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, which has turned out a long line of podium stars, including Esa-Pekka Salonen, Mikko Franck, Jukka-Pekka Saraste and Susanna Malkki.

“It became a very natural thing to do.”

Indeed, Makela was bitten early by the bug, his eureka moment coming when he made his debut on the stage of the Finnish National Opera at 7 as a part of the children’s choir for “Carmen.”

While the “drama and great music” of Bizet’s opera intoxicated him, it was the conductor which really caught his eye.

“We were in the middle of this amazing machine, for a child it is a great experience,” he said.

“My attention was on the conductor” in the middle of everything.

Makela, who will stay on in Oslo when he takes up the Paris baton in September 2022, said he learned early that “leadership is quite a complicated thing.”

From his long apprenticeship, standing week after week on the podium became this very natural place to be.

“I think authority does not come from dictating or forcing people to do things, it comes from proving what you do, which is natural authority,” the precocious Finn said.

That winning mix of swagger, precision and rigor was clear to everyone who saw Makela rehearse for a concert at the Paris Philharmonie earlier this month.

But so too was his warmth, slipping in little jokes to help the orchestra understand what he was looking for.

“Imagine Don Giovanni playing the mandolin at his window,” he said at one stage, much to the musicians’ amusement as they rehearsed Ravel’s “Couperin’s Tomb.”

“Despite his young age, he is impressively mature,” said one of the orchestra’s violinists, Anne-Sophie le Rol. “Like all great conductors, he does not need to speak, he can transmit everything through a gesture.

“He can help us create very particular sounds and to go further to bring out the nuances of a piece.”

“You get the feeling that you are being led by a colleague,” added solo oboist Alexandre Gattet.

Much of this ease Makela puts down to his time in the Sibelius Academy.

“I was lucky to be in class every week to learn under the conductor and composer Jorma Panula, a fountain of wisdom, who has launched two generations of Finnish classical talent on the world,” said Makela.

Even if the classical music audience is aging despite innumerable attempts to attract younger fans, Makela is hugely optimistic about its future. He acknowledges that young people have shorter attention spans.

“People look at their phones all the time. They want so many things at the same time and very quickly, which is good,” he said. “But our art is totally the opposite. It is all about sitting quietly listening and watching.”

But the fact that it is so different might actually make it “cool,” argued Makela, who will take over in Paris from another relatively youthful conductor Briton Daniel Harding.

“Because people are starting to become quite annoyed with the pace of life and many young people want to slow down, the most revolutionary thing you can do is to come to concert and listen to a Bruckner symphony,” he insisted with a smile.



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