Klaus Mäkelä and the Concertgebouw Orchestra open Musikfest Berlin with music by Mahler and Saariaho

The beginning of a new age

Berlin. 08/28/2022. Philharmonie. Musikfest Berlin. Works by Saariaho and Mahler. Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra. Klaus Mäkelä, musical direction.

Just recently appointed last June as the next director of the Concertgebouw Orchestra from Amsterdam from 2027, the young Finnish master Klaus Makela (Helsinki, 1996) has embarked on his first tour with the Dutch group. The first date had the honor of being the inaugural concert of the already famous Musikfest Berlin, an annual meeting that brings together the best international orchestras in the renowned Philharmonie hall.

The chosen program could not be more emblematic, beginning with Orion by Finnish compatriot Kaija Saariaho and Symphony no. 6 by Gustav Mahler. Precisely two days before we had been able to listen to the Seventh Symphony by the same composer at the hands of the Berliner Philharmoniker and Kirill Petrenko and on the day between, the Berlin Konzerthaus Orchestra opened its season with the famous Fifth. Impressive once again the musical offer of the German capital.

Already with Saariaho’s piece two things became clear, from very early on: the supernatural talent of the young Finn and the total dedication of the Dutch formation. Time will tell but a priori the marriage between the two may be one of the happiest chapters in symphonic music in recent decades. The Saariaho sheet music it is fascinating, almost hypnotic. It is the result of a commission from the Cleveland Orchestra and was released in 2002 under the baton of Franz Welser-Möst. Mystery, nocturnal, obstinate rhythmic repetition of some figures, contrasting with abrupt and almost violent outbursts. Truly an inspired and rich score that found a committed advocate in Mäkelä. It is truly astonishing to contemplate such a young baton defending such a complex and demanding contemporary work in this way. It was a vibrant start to a concert where the best was yet to come.

mfb22 20220828 Eröffnungskonzert Concertgebouworkest Amsterdam Konzert Philharmonie Fabian Schellhorn 030

Klaus Mäkelä has a unique touch, something obvious and immediately recognizable. He is an anointed, the man of the moment given the fascination he arouses. Because of his charisma, because of his talent, because of his magnetism. He has everything to be the baton of his generation, the director who marks the coming decades if nothing is cut short. His directing style is certainly physical, emphatic and energetic, and perhaps over time he should or may somewhat mitigate his gesture. He is a case similar to that of the pianist Daniil Trifonov, so intense in his gestures and movements at the keyboard. The good thing is that all this translates into communication, in constant, pure and genuine expression.

When I interviewed Klaus Mäkelä last March, he told me something very interesting: “Orchestral conducting boils down to communication. Communication between the musicians, communication towards the audience, communication from the score… The most important thing is to understand this in a way that sincere and honest, with the best will towards music and towards musicians”. And he concluded: “Ultimately, the work of a director consists of nothing other than getting the musicians to give their best in each measure”. How obvious all this is when you look at Mäkelä on the podium.

Makela doesn’t run but she squeezes; she squeezes but she doesn’t choke; she breathes but gives no respite. Her way of making her music is joyful, of absolute dedication, experiential in a broad and genuine sense. With him, music is pure experience and all the musicians and the entire audience present at the concert in question can attest to this.

Thus, Mahler’s Sixth that they toasted with the musicians of the Concertgebouw Orchestra was a real whirlwind of emotions. The young Finnish master has been intelligent in choosing such a work for this first tour as appointed director, so turned outward in its expressiveness, so impressive. Mahler does not admit the thick line in any case, but it is true that there are other scores in his catalog where the filigree is more required continuously or where transcendence is condition sine qua non to reach a safe haven. Here, on the other hand, the trump card is played more by strong emotions and with it by pure sonority, something in which Mäkelä certainly seems very focused, managing balances, dynamics and volumes with real skill.

The central section of the second movement, somewhat spelled out, but finished off after the Walking with a final stretch really achieved, well managed forces. It had been a long time since he had listened to the Concertgebouw ensemble so inspired, so refined in all its sections, with that highly tuned string, steely but smooth, with an overwhelming brass section and virtuoso woodwinds.

In short, a concert that is remembered. I bet that many years from now I will happily recap being at the Berlin Philharmonie on Klaus Mäkelä’s first tour conducting the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Tribute to Wolfgang Rihm, on his 70th birthday

However, the Musikfest Berlin agenda had begun the previous afternoon with a chamber concert by the violinist Ilya Gringoltshe violates Lawrence Power and the cellist Nicholas Altstaedt. The evening included Streichtrio by Arnold Schönberg, from 1946, and the piece Musikf for 3 Streicher by Wolfgang Rihm, composer honored precisely in this way on his seventieth birthday. This trio of virtuosos showed off an absolutely impeccable performance, one that leaves one speechless. Rihm’s piece belongs to an early stage of his activity as a composer. Written when he was barely twenty-five years old, it is really intricate in its technical demands and achieves very remarkable levels of expressiveness.

mfb22 20220827 Gringolts Power Altstaedt Philharmonie Kammermusiksaal Fabian Schellhorn 012

Photos: © Fabian Schellhorn / Berliner Festspiele

Klaus Mäkelä and the Concertgebouw Orchestra open Musikfest Berlin with music by Mahler and Saariaho