The Houston Symphony has announced Andres Orozco-Estrada as the music director designate, replacing the outgoing Hans Graf in the 2014-2015 season. The Colombian born conductor is just 35 years old, less than half as old as the orchestra which is set to celebrate its centennial season. Orozco-Estrada trained at the Vienna Music Academy before going on to conduct the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra at the Vienna Musikverein. He is currently the Music Director of the Tonkünstler Orchestra and serves as Principal Conductor of the Basque National Orchestra (Orquesta Sinfónica de Euskadi) in San Sebastián, Spain.
Mayor Annise Parker, one of the dignitaries on hand at Jones Hall to welcome Orozco-Estrada during a noon press conference, told him, "You are the right person for this job, a perfect fit for the city." Giving Orozco-Estrada a crash course in what he'll need as a Houstonian, Mayor Parker suggested he get a pair of boots, a cowboy hat and a belt buckle large enough to use as a dinner plate if need be.
Orozco-Estrada, who Houston Symphony CEO Mark C. Hanson called a "true musical visionary," took the podium to read a prepared statement and, along with Hanson and Houston Symphony President Robert A. Peiser, answer questions from the audience. Orozco-Estrada warned the audience his English isn't very good yet; his Spanish, German and Italian skills, he says, are stronger. (He told the crowd he learned English by watching DVDs of American television series. He started with Friends, moved to Two and a Half Men, then The Big Bang Theory -- "I love Sheldon!" -- and now Modern Family.) Mayor Parker had the first question: "Is it fair to call him a rock star?" The answer from Hanson was a resounding "Yes!"
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Graf, who becomes the orchestra's conductor laureate for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, leaves big shoes for Orozco-Estrada to fill. Graf led the orchestra for 12 years, through an especially exciting phase of its history. He made his Carnegie Hall conducting debut with the symphony in 2006, just one of several high profile concerts he led during his tenure. In 2009, Graf announced he would leave the Houston Symphony after the 2012-2013 season, giving the organization some four years to search for his replacement.
At the time Orozco-Estrada was just 31 years old, but already causing buzz in the classical music scene. In 2004 he had stepped in at short notice to perform Richard Strauss' Vier letzte Lieder with Eva Mei and Anton Bruckner's 4th Symphony with the Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich, prompting an avalanche of accolades for his performance and leading to his appointment in 2009 as the group's new Principal Conductor.
It was with another of Strauss's works, Horn Concert No. 1, that Orozco-Estrada made his debut with the Houston Symphony just a few months ago in October. At the time, the orchestra noted an instant chemistry with the young maestro. He says building his relationship with the orchestra members is a priority for him during his time as music director designate (he'll conduct 13 concerts with the orchestra in the upcoming season).
"I feel such a strong connection with the musicians and know that our relationship will be a very special one that produces beautiful and memorable performances for our audience," he said during today's press conference. "My focus will be on creating exceptional music, exciting and engaging as much of the community as possible, and raising the visibility and profile of the Houston Symphony throughout Houston and the world."