“Klaus Mäkelä, towards the flame”, on Arte: itinerary of a gifted conductor

We remember coming across a stunning concert on YouTube during the Covid-19 pandemic: a young, handsome chef in a double-breasted suit (a rarity on the catwalks and in today's men's wardrobe ), conducted Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No

“Klaus Mäkelä, towards the flame”, on Arte: itinerary of a gifted conductor

We remember coming across a stunning concert on YouTube during the Covid-19 pandemic: a young, handsome chef in a double-breasted suit (a rarity on the catwalks and in today's men's wardrobe ), conducted Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 “Leningrad” as it has rarely been heard.

We were literally left on the edge of our seats wondering: who is this prodigious, still little-known musician? By searching a little, we quickly understood that with the young Finnish Klaus Mäkelä, born in 1996, we were dealing with an exception: we have known gifted young chefs; young conductors endowed with such musical maturity and depth, more rarely.

This is also what struck the musical documentarian Bruno Monsaingeon, who made it, in his own words, his new “artistic favorite”. The film Klaus Mäkelä, towards the flame (2023) looks back on the conductor's childhood, his early taste for conducting, his lessons with Jorma Panula (the mentor of most practicing Finnish conductors), his lightning shared with European orchestras.

“It ticks all the boxes.”

Mäkelä was appointed musical director of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra in 2018, then, in 2020, of the Paris Orchestra. In 2022, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam named him "artistic partner", pending his taking up his duties as musical director in 2027. Just about every orchestra that counts invites him, and we can reasonably qualify his meteoric career when he was still only 28 years old.

As always, Bruno Monsaingeon films with adoring empathy, so that nothing particularly salient comes out of the exchanges with the young chef (on other occasions, we hear the documentarian speaking). A few more technical or more disturbing questions – asked of Mäkelä or of informed observers – would have been welcome. But Monsaingeon doesn't really like people interposing themselves between his camera and the loved object, as Roland Barthes said.

Mäkelä is obviously intelligent, lively, enthusiastic, friendly and, as one member of the Orchester de Paris puts it, “he ticks all the boxes” expected of a modern young conductor. But not much interesting comes out of his remarks (often like: “Music is a journey that the audience must embark on with us…”). Like Claudio Abbado, Mäkelä seems to be one of those who express themselves better in music than in words.

Frenzy of collaborations

The end credits recall the meteoric journey of the young chef. But, since the filming of the documentary, another orchestra – and not the least: that of Chicago – has convinced Mäkelä to become its next musical director from 2027, that is to say at the very moment when he will take the helm from the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra…

“Toward the Flame” is the subtitle of this portrait of a journey at the speed of sound. Given the frenzy of musical collaborations (besides, not a word about the opera: will Mäkelä have the time to do any? Does he want to?), one might fear that this brilliant butterfly , that everyone is scrambling to pin it on the paper of a contract, so as not to burn their wings. What we don't wish for him.