There's a new sound in town, and he'll soon be taking the conductor's podium at Houston Symphony. The organization's Board of Trustees President John Rydman and Executive Director and CEO John Mangum today announced Juraj Valcuha as the Houston Symphony’s next Music Director.
An internationally acclaimed conductor, Valcuha has led the most esteemed orchestras around the world and currently serves as Music Director of the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Italy and First Guest Conductor of the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, Germany. He will begin his appointment at the launch of the 2022–23 season as the fifth music director to hold the Houston Symphony’s Roy and Lillie Cullen Chair, a position endowed in perpetuity by The Cullen Foundation.
As music director, Valcuha is responsible for the overall artistic health of the organization. He'll be involved in the programming by selecting what the orchestra plays and who appears with the orchestra when he's not the conductor. He'll also hire and work with musicians throughout his tenure with Houston Symphony.
Mangum explains that the music director fills another important responsibility within the organization.
"The music director is also responsible for thinking about the role an orchestra plays in the community. Juraj is already thinking how Houston Symphony can be a resource for the community and can ensure the community has access to the orchestra. He's thinking about the work the orchestra does to engage the community and support people who want to connect with us. It’s a key artistic vision and leadership role," he said.
The musician made his debut with the Houston Symphony as a guest conductor in 2011. He returned to lead the orchestra during both the 2017–18 and 2020–21 Seasons with programs that included Chopin’s "Piano Concerto No. 2," Strauss’ "Also sprach Zarathustra," and Copland’s "Clarinet Concerto." If music lovers haven't had a chance to see his skills on the stage yet, Valcuha will return to Houston on May 27–29, 2022, to lead the orchestra in Beethoven’s "Symphony No. 9 Choral" for the 2021–22 Season finale. He will make his first official appearance as Music Director of the Houston Symphony on September 17, 2022 and will return for nine weeks of the 2022–23 Season.
Valcuha was a stand out among the remarkable candidates formed by the search committee led by Miles O. Smith, Chair, Artistic & Orchestra Affairs of the Houston Symphony Board of Trustees, and made up of Houston Symphony musicians, board members, and staff.
"It was a couple of things that made him stand out. Each time he visited the orchestra over the years, it was a deeper artistic experience for the members. What sealed the deal was his visit last March when he conducted the orchestra and a concerto with Principal Clarinet Mark Nuccio. A huge majority of the musicians were excited about what was happening on-stage and with the music making, and this is someone they wanted to work with. And the chemistry goes both ways. Juray has built upon the work of his predecessors, and it was a wonderful back and forth," Mangum said. "We also spent time talking with him about his thoughts on the orchestra as an institution, his thoughts on Houston and where he thinks there are opportunities to do important things with the orchestra. It was just as exciting to think of the possibilities we have off-stage as it was to think about what will happen on-stage."
He succeeds beloved conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada, whose tenure concludes at the end of the 2021–22 Season after eight seasons with the orchestra. The organization is dubbing the 2021–22 Classical Series as a season-long "farewell" celebration of Orozco-Estrada in the final year of his outstanding tenure. The season promises an impressive list of guest artists such as Itzhak Perlman, Emanuel Ax, Yefim Bronfman, Hélène Grimaud, Simone Lamsma, and Augustin Hadelich.
Orozco-Estrada follows in the footsteps of other renowned and respected artistic leaders of the Houston Symphony: Leopold Stokowski (1955–61); Sir John Barbirolli (1961–67); André Previn (1967–69); Christoph Eschenbach (1988–99), who is Valcuha’s colleague at the Konzerthausorchester Berlin; and Hans Graf (2001–13).
Born in Bratislava, Slovakia, Valcuha studied composition and conducting in his birthplace, then at the Conservatory in St. Petersburg (with Ilya Musin), and, finally, at the Conservatoire Supérieur de la Musique in Paris.
The 2005–06 season marked the start of his international career with exciting concerts on the podium of the Orchestre National de France followed by remarkable debuts in the U.K. with the Philharmonia London, in Germany with the Munich Philharmonic, and in the United States with the Pittsburgh Symphony. His Italian debut took place at Teatro Comunale in Bologna with a sensational production of "La Bohème." He was Chief Conductor of the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI from 2009 to 2016. That's in addition to the who's-who list of the world's most dazzling symphony and opera companies he's worked with in the last 15-plus years. He was awarded the Premio Abbiati 2018 from Italian Music critics in the category Best Conductor.
Valcuha is recognized for his effortless expressiveness and depth of musicianship. With sharp baton technique and natural stage presence, the impressive ease of his interpretations translates even the most complex scores into immersive experiences. His profound understanding of composer and score, taste, and naturally elegant style make him one of the most sought-after conductors of his generation.
"Everything with him is about the music. The level of artistry is very high, and he’s devoted to the music. It’s dynamic, communicative, and he engages with the musicians," Mangum added. "He gives a lot of information from the podium. The eye contact...the way he shapes a phrase with his left hand. The orchestra is making music with him. There is energy and electricity between the conductor and orchestra, and that comes across to the audience very clearly."
...and now, he's ours.
Houston Symphony is based out of Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. For more information about Houston Symphony's upcoming season or to purchases tickets, visit houstonsymphony.org or call 713-244-7575.
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