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Houston, we have maestro

The Houston Symphony Orchestra, which went off the radar some time ago in its slow search for a successor to the unprepossessing Hans Graf, has gone for a 36 year-old Colombian with a rising European profile.

Andrés Orozco-Estrada, a complete unknown in the US, has just turned down the job of music director in Cologne and is getting high ratings for his charismatic guest conducting with other orchs. Word is, he blew the Houston players’ socks off.

“I immediately felt a striking and energizing chemistry between Andrés and the orchestra,” said Principal Second Violin Jennifer Owen.  “There was an overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic response from the musicians during his first week with us, and if anything, the musicians were more excited following our second encounter with him.  We are looking forward to some thrilling performances for the orchestra and audience alike in the years ahead!” They’re in for a lively time.


photo: IMG Artists/ Werner Kmetitsch

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  1. Francis Schwartz says:

    The Houston audience will be very pleasantly surprised. This is a gifted, young conductor with “duende” who reminds me of the young Zubin Mehta. Without doubt, this is a career to watch.

  2. Hugo Sloterdijk says:

    I saw him conducting in the Netherlands, he is great indeed. On this photo he looks like Gustavo Dudamel haha! :)

  3. Chris Johnson says:

    The musicians are giddy with excitement. They compare his personality and temperament to that of Dudamel, but with “better technique.” I spoke with three musicians today who all agreed there couldn’t have been a better choice made for this orchestra.

    • Funny, I thought Dudamel’s technique was pretty good. Have the Houston musicians ever played under Dudamel? If not, how can they compare? Youtube?

      • Chris Johnson says:

        The one that said that played with Dudamel in LA. The Dude is also known for being rough around the edges

      • Christophe says:

        It is a good choice, he is a good conductor. Having played under him once, I was impressed by his passion for the music and clarity of technique. Latin soul is the mode du jour. It is clear the Houston Symphony is hoping he will do for the Hispanic community what Dudamel has done in Los Angeles. But this is more about money than music, regardless of musician’s enthusiasm. It shows yet again that American orchestras are desperate for ticket sales, and are quick to jump on the under 40 bandwagon like so many others. They used to be high rollers for the big names: Beecham, Barbirolli, Previn, Eschenbach. Today, they are like all the others, looking for the young face to revive old orchestras. Too bad the prodigal son could not return home as he would have tripled their annual budget in his 1st year AND made great music. But before Luciano and other Houston musicians or blog readers decide to unceremoniously assassinate his character or musicality, as they have done on other occasions, let me point out that he will be conducting Estrada’s other orchestras in Europe, so he obviously is doing something right. But doubtful the Houston musicians and boards have their heads out of the oilwell long enough to know anything that happens outside their atmosphere. Houston, es su problema, ahora.

        • “Too bad the prodigal son could not return home as he would have tripled their annual budget in his 1st year AND made great music.

          Christophe, who is this “prodigal son” you write of? And who will be conducting Estrada’s other orchestras in Europe? Did part of your post disappear?

          • ranjbaran says:

            To MWnyc, Christophe’s comment may have missed some lines. He surely refers “prodigal son” as the great Maestro John Axelrod who should have been the first choice the Houston orchestra goes for. Axelrod conducts anything from Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Mahler, Bernstein, contemporary pieces with equal depth. After all he is the reincarnation of his beloved teacher, and musical father Leonard Bernstein. Boston Symphony should jump on this occasion to sign Axelrod as the successor to James Levine. I suggest Peter Gelb at the MET takes this seriously too. And San Francisco after Tilson Thomas, New York after Gilbert, Chicago after Muti……..your man Axelrod is the Maestro to grab. Don’t let him be taken by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra!!!!!!

        • Having served as a member of the search committee, I can assure you that the process was entirely lead by the will of the musicians, as relayed in detailed surveys, and their voice was clear and overwhelming. I realize that Andres looks like a US orchestra manager’s lab concoction, so perfect is his backstory combing Hispanic roots and Viennese training, and his charming presence, but I can tell you in complete honesty that it had little bearing on the reasons for his selection. We considered older, younger, more experienced, less experienced, men and women of every nationality. We saw many excellent talents who could have filled the post with distinction, but the chemistry with Andres was extraordinary.
          BTW, respectfully, neither Previn, nor Eschenbach were famous as conductors at the time they were engaged by the Houston Symphony, though Eschenbach built his reputation during his time here, and as to not knowing what is going on in the rest of the world, the fact that we presented the debut or second US concerts of so many of the top young conductors in the world (including Andres) during this process doesn’t really support that notion.

        • Paul Wells says:

          I’m struck by the supposed distinction between the “big names” of old and the “under 40 bandwagon” of today. Previn, Chailly, Levine, Barenboim, Barbirolli, Karajan, Mravinsky — name the big name, they got their first major conducting gig in their 30s or younger. You’re not actually supposed to sit around for most of your life waiting for your career to start.

        • Don Ciccio says:

          “Today, they are like all the others, looking for the young face to revive old orchestras.”

          As Washington’s National Symphony Orchestra appointment of Christoph Eschenbach as music director – and before him, of Ivan Fischer – as MD, and as Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s appointment of Riccardo Muti proves.

          • Don Ciccio says:

            Correction: I should have said Ivan Fischer as principal conductor, not MD – although apparently he was sseriously considered for directorship as well. And I only mentioned American orchestras since that’s what “Christophe” was referring about.

  4. mahler guy says:

    I’ve worked with Dudamel a lot, and his technique really is not that good.

  5. Luciano, actually several of our musicians have played under Dudamel, either playing with the LA Phil or with other orchestras. However since I was sitting next to the person who made that statement this afternoon, I am quite positive that their point was not to raise one conductor up by putting another down. Andres shares some of Dudamel’s wonderful traits- exuberance, warmth, spontaneity, but they have different musical ideals and different approaches to working with the orchestra. Dudamel seems great for LA and Andres seems great for Houston. We are very happy to have found Andres before the rest of North America, we believe he is likely going to be very big in the conducting world one day and we are very excited to see where he takes our orchestra. In addition to being one of the most physically gifted conductors I’ve ever seen (and I played in the NY Phil before coming here so I’ve had the good fortune to see many of the best), he’s also a very warm and genuine person. You can watch the livestream of the press conference here:

  6. ranjbaran says:

    I am really sad the genius and celebrated home boy Maestro John Axelrod wasn’t chosen as the new Music Director of the Houston orchestra. The Board and Management of HSO ought to give better chance to their homegrown talent. Maestro Axelrod would have been able to energize new audience and boost ticket sales of the orchestra. He is the greatest conductor in the world today!!!!!!!!!

  7. So Hans Graf is “unprepossessing”… Whereas of course you Norman are from your picture clearly “The glass of fashion and the mould of form”….

    What an unnecessary and casually unpleasant remark to make.

  8. Don’t forget that Orozco Estrada is the chief conductor until the end of this season in Orquesta Sinfónica de Euskadi, San Sebastian, Spain. They had a nose.

  9. Dear Norman, Dear Ranjbaran, Dear Christophe,

    Excuse me for intervening, but your blog comments have been sent to my attention.

    I am very honored by your support. While I appreciate your words of confidence, I would like to voice my support for Andrés Orozco- Estrada, who is a very fine conductor and human being. The Houston Symphony is lucky to have him and I wish them much success together. Yes, it is true I will be conducting his orchestras in Europe. (How did you know?)

    While Norman is the moderator of his own blog, I would not like to discourage you from expressing your enthusiasm. It is my opinion there are too many naysayers and negativists on blogs and we need people who share your ideals. Classical music is facing many challenges and your positive energy does more good than the cynicism of others. As recently written by David Brooks in the New York times about voting: Saying people should vote because their right is under threat does less to inspire votes than by saying people should join the club because everyone else is voting. We are social animals. If more people said how great classical music is and how good the people are who make it (Rattle, Estrada, Dudamel and everyone else included), then more people might be more committed to supporting our work. I, for one, thank Ranjbaran and Christophe for being so brave to withstand the onslaught of online commentaries. Keep writing! And again many thanks.

    • christophe says:

      Wow, I remember all the fuss over your book (which I read- will it be published in English?), but I have never seen a conductor actually respond on Norman’s blog by complimenting another conductor. Mr. Axelrod, if you are still “online” would you be kind enough to answer some questions? Let me answer yours. I know as some musicians of Estrada’s two orchestras told me of next seasons’s concerts and your name was included. I appreciate your entering into the discussion and allowing us (Ranjbaran and I) to express our appreciation of your work, especially as there seem to be several people who are more concerned about hurting than helping. From people I know and your bio, you left Houston to become an assistant in Bayreuth and Schleswig Holstein Musik Festival to then Houston Symphony Orchestra Music Director Christophe Eschenbach, and then went on to develop your career in Europe. You also have a child who was born in Europe in 2003. That would certainly explain why you left Houston quickly. It is also worth noting that while you were in Houston, OrchestraX was a success, and after you left, it tried but failed to continue without your leadership. I know some musicians who played with you then (over 10 years ago) and really enjoyed it. Evidently, there were others who did not who have written on this blog. What is true is that no conductor is universally liked, especially ones with strong personalities as yours. (Excuse me for saying, but we need personalities like yours, even if some musicians in USA, France or Swiss think not). There is a lot of jealousy in this industry. I had the chance to play several times under your baton and I really enjoyed both the experience and your musicality and your connection with the audience. So did most of my colleagues. That is why I share positive comments about you. But, the question that I think Chris Johnson and I share (and perhaps others): Would you ever return to the USA? Did Houston even ask you? Sorry for our questions, but we have no other way of knowing and that would help us avoid what can be unfair comments and assumptions. Or perhaps Norman, could you make an interview with Maestro Axelrod so he no longer becomes the target of uninformed or biased readers? He clearly is a musician of interest, otherwise he would not be so often mentioned on your blog. (And he is not the only conductor to be maltreated on your blog. I sometimes think this forum has become an outlet only for mean people showing off how much or how little they know, rather than offering any real information that is useful to the discussion). Maestro, Norman, the ball is in your court!

  10. Dr. Marc Villeger says:

    Hans Graf was Music Director with the Calgary Philharmonic in the 90s. In 2000, he kindly accepted to graciously conduct a homage concert to Alfred Schnittke co-organized by Lands End and Instrumental Society of Calgary -I was its president back then-. The evening was supposed to be a fundraiser for a contemporary art museum but we just broke even. It was however a cultural success as reknown Calgary based visual artists discovered Schnittke’s music. CBC Radio, of course, did not record the concert to Graf’s chagrin.
    Yet, while at the helm of the CPO, Graf never featured any piece by Schnittke. When I asked him at a dinner in town, he curtly replied that “me and my three friends” would not fill the hall… Go figure.

  11. Bravo to Houston and their new conductor. It’s time for Graf to go. But beware: Eiji Oue blew the players’ socks off in Minnesota too, and we all know how that turned out. So trust, but verify.

  12. Chris Johnson says:

    It’s worth noting that Axelrod left Houston quickly and at the first opportunity. I think it is presumptuous to think that he would want to come back. He seems quite happy in Europe. Brinton, thanks for the context regarding my reference to Dudamel.

  13. Karl Miller says:

    Dudamel with a haircut! No doubt is was a marketing decision.

  14. Norman said:

    “Andrés Orozco-Estrada, a complete unknown in the US, has just turned down the job of music director in Cologne”

    Which one? Saraste (WDR) just started – is he leaving again? Is Stenz leaving the Gürzenich-Orchester? I hope not.

  15. in response to the characterization of Hans Graf as “unprepossessing”: in Hans’s Defense, i attended his rehearsals and concerts as a Tanglewood Viola and Conducting Fellow in Summer ’99 as a 23 year old and was very impressed with Hans’s professionalism working with the Boston Symphony … i admired him!… also , i recall that Hans visited Boston many times when I was going to Boston Symphony concerts there in the 1990s as a teen and I always had a very positive impression of him… a pro pos: i DO add that Hans is lucky to make it out of Texas with his health and life in tact, considering that previous unpopular maestros in Texas have been known to meet their live’s ends in horrible situations… as far as I’ve heard…

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