Classical Music

Andrés Fest: A Symphonic Celebration Is A Noteworthy Display Of Might

Nothing says "You've made it" like having a festival named after you.
Nothing says "You've made it" like having a festival named after you. Photo by Anthony Rathbun Photography
So long, and farewell. Sometimes stories must come to an end, and we're closely approaching the end of an era for one of Houston Symphony's most notable figures: Andrés Orozco-Estrada. He wraps up his eight-year tenure as Music Director in the next few months, but not without a bang.

As an appropriate sprinkling of pizzazz to celebrate his mark on the Houston Symphony, the organization has announced full programming for the two-week festival, “Andrés Fest: A Symphonic Celebration,” starting March 18. Paying tribute to what Orozco-Estrada has brought to the Bayou City's art world, the festival’s performances feature repertoire associated with the conductor’s time with the organization, commissions including two world premieres, and solo performances.

Highlights of the festival also involve the world premiere commission of Bruce Broughton’s Horn Concerto, and the Texas premiere of Wynton Marsalis’s Tuba Concerto, a Symphony co-commission, featuring Principal Tuba Dave Kirk.

Broughton is the Academy-Award-nominated American composer whose works include the scores to such major motion pictures as Silverado, Tombstone, and The Rescuers Down Under, and Marsalis is the Pulitzer and multi-Grammy-winning trumpeter, composer and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center who holds the distinction of being the only artist to win Classical and Jazz Grammy Awards in the same year.

Who could ask for better company? Or better musicianship?

The festival also marks the world premiere of Kyle Rivera’s theme and variations on George Bridgetower’s Henry: A Ballad. Kyle Rivera is a Houston-based composer whose Houston Symphony debut came in 2019’s ground-breaking Resilient Sounds concert celebrating the inspiring, diverse stories of Houston’s refugee communities. Henry: A Ballad is one of the few surviving works by 18th-century Afro-European composer George Bridgetower, a celebrated violinist of his time with close ties to Europe’s royalty and Ludwig van Beethoven.

The festival spotlights Symphony musicians - a hallmark of Orozco-Estrada’s programming - including Principal Keyboard Scott Holshouser alongside piano superstar Emanuel Ax in Saint-Saëns’s beloved Carnival of the Animals; Principal Second Violin MuChen Hsieh and Acting Principal Viola Joan DerHovsepian in Bruch’s Concertino in E minor for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra; Principal Clarinet Mark Nuccio in Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs and Artie Shaw’s Clarinet Concerto; Principal Trumpet Mark Hughes featured in Jolivet’s Concertino; and concertos featuring Dave Kirk and William VerMeulen.

The entire orchestra is featured in works that have played a pivotal role in Orozco-Estrada’s music directorship, such as Bernstein’s Overture to Candide and Gershwin’s An American in Paris, both of which are featured on the Pentatone 2018 release Music of the Americas.

With a lineup like this, it's a feast for the ears. And here's the rest of the succulent menu to enjoy:

Andrés Fest:

Friday, March 18
Andrés Orozco-Estrada, conductor
Mark Nuccio, clarinet
Mark Hughes, trumpet
Emanuel Ax, piano
Scott Holshouser, piano
  • Bridgetower/Kyle Rivera: Henry: A Ballad
  • Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals
  • Bernstein: Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs
  • Shaw: Clarinet Concerto
  • Jolivet: Concertino for Trumpet
  • Shostakovich: Suite for Variety Orchestra, No. 1

Saturday, March 19
Andrés Orozco-Estrada, conductor
Emanuel Ax, piano
Scott Holshouser, piano
MuChen Hsieh, violin
Joan DerHovsepian, viola
Mark Hughes, trumpet
  • Bridgetower/Kyle Rivera: Henry: A Ballad
  • Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals
  • Bruch: Concertino in E minor for Violin and Viola, Op. 88
  • Jolivet: Concertino for Trumpet
  • Shostakovich: Suite for Variety Orchestra, No. 1

Sunday, March 20
Andrés Orozco-Estrada, conductor
Emanuel Ax, piano
Scott Holshouser, piano
Mark Nuccio, clarinet
MuChen Hsieh, violin
Joan DerHovsepian, viola
  • Bernstein: On the Town: Three Dance Episodes
  • Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals
  • Bernstein: Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs
  • Shaw: Clarinet Concerto
  • Bruch: Concertino in E minor for Violin and Viola, Op. 88
  • Bernstein: West Side Story: Symphonic Dances IV. Mambo

Saturday, March 26 and Sunday, March 27
Andrés Orozco-Estrada, conductor
William Ver Meulen, horn
David Kirk, Tuba
  • Gershwin: An American in Paris
  • Bruce Broughton: Horn Concerto
  • Wynton Marsalis: Concerto for Tubist and Orchestra
  • Ravel: Bólero
click to enlarge Houston Symphony Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada leads the orchestra in one a festival of music. - PHOTO BY JEFF FITLOW
Houston Symphony Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada leads the orchestra in one a festival of music.
Photo by Jeff Fitlow
It's a fitting celebration for someone who has held such command over the arts and culture landscape in one of the country's largest cities. The Houston Symphony continues its second century(!) as one of America’s leading orchestras with a full complement of concert, community, education, touring, and recording activities. The full-time ensemble of professional musicians presents nearly 170 concerts annually, making it the largest performing arts organization in Houston.

And it hasn't been easy these last few years to operate as a figure head for a performing arts organization.

To reach expectations is one thing, but to set even higher standards is another, which has been witnessed with the conductor.  Orozco-Estrada has the chops, and he delivers, even in the most turbulent of times.

After suspending concert activities in March 2020 and cancelling the remainder of 2019–20 events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Houston Symphony resumed activities in May 2020, opening the 2020–21 season on schedule with small audiences of 150, which the organization gradually increased to 450 audience members per performance.

As such, Orozco-Estrada persisted...and triumphed. Tickets are near sell-out level some weeks - an affirmation of his impact within the organization. Conductors from other cities have noted how they looked to the Houston Symphony for leadership during the recent downturn per the pandemic - a true testament to the power of Houston and how our arts organizations serve as leaders.

The Houston Symphony has outperformed in what most industry peers consider incomparable odds, which is another feather in Orozco-Estrada's cap.

To say the least, we will miss him.

A true citizen of the world, he will fill his time afterward in Vienna. Orozco-Estrada has been the chief conductor of the Vienna Symphony since 2020, which is where he will continue his work.

The music-rich city has played a large role in his life. Born in Medellín, Colombia, he began his musical education with the violin. He received his first conducting lessons at 15 and began study in Vienna in 1997, where he was accepted at the prestigious University of Music and Performing Arts in the conducting class of Uros Lajovic, a student of the legendary Hans Swarowsky.

He will be succeeded by Juraj Valcuha at the Houston Symphony. For now, we get to enjoy Andrés Fest.

Orozco-Estrada will rest well assured that he always has a secondary home with Houston. Job well done. Auf Wiedersehen, and good bye...but don't stay gone for too long.

Andrés Fest: A Symphonic Celebration runs 8 p.m. March 18 and 19; 2:30 p.m. March 20; 8 p.m. March 26 and 2:30 p.m. March 27 at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. For information or tickets, call 713-224-7575 or visit houstonsymphony.org. $26 - $150.
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd