A New Conductor Takes the Baton

Andrés Orozco-Estrada leads the Houston Symphony into its second century.

By Michael Hardy September 1, 2014 Published in the September 2014 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Andres Orozco-Estrada, rock star of contemporary classical music, takes over conductorship of the Houston Symphony full time this fall.

Bienvenido, Andrés!
Sept 12 at 8:30. Free.
Miller Outdoor Theatre

Opening Night Concert With Andrés
Sept 13 at 7:30. $29–165.
Jones Hall

Fiesta Sinfónica con Andrés
Sept 14 at 6. Free.
Jones Hall

On a Friday evening last April, Andrés Orozco-Estrada took the podium at Jones Hall to conduct a program of Beethoven and Dvorák in front of a packed crowd—it was Orozco-Estrada’s last concert as the Houston Symphony’s music director-designate before assuming the job full-time this month. Wearing a fitted, collarless conductor’s jacket, his immaculately coiffed mane of curly, jet-black hair matching his gleaming patent leather shoes, the 36-year-old wunderkind established a presence on stage from the first note. Orozco-Estrada conducted with his entire body, bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet in time to the music, leaning into the orchestra, using one hand to keep a steady beat with his baton and the other to cue entrances or signal dynamic shifts. Toward the end of the sprited final movement of Dvo?ák’s Symphony No. 8, Orozco-Estrada let it all hang out, windmilling his baton arm around like Pete Townshend shredding on a guitar. 

The comparison is apt: Orozco-Estrada is a rock star of contemporary classical music. With his youthful good looks, ebullient personality, and sparkling résumé, the Colombian-born, Austrian-trained conductor quickly won over the HSO musicians during his closed-door audition for the job two years ago and was the consensus pick to succeed Hans Graf, who retired at the end of the 2012–13 season. 

“Andrés is deeply serious and passionate about making music, and that becomes pretty clear early on in any conversation with him,” Symphony executive director Mark Hanson said. “It certainly becomes clear when an audience member sees him conducting a rehearsal or a concert for the first time. But he’s also a very warm, down-to-earth, funny, relaxed human being.”

The audience caught a glimpse of that sense of humor during a question-and-answer session following the April concert. Asked whether he ever got tired while conducting, Orozco-Estrada grinned. “No, because I have superpowers,” he said in accented English, unbuttoning his jacket like Clark Kent to reveal a Texans jersey underneath—the one presented to him earlier in the evening by Whitney Mercilus, an outside linebacker on the team and a reported classical music aficionado.

In a recent e-mail interview, Orozco-Estrada said that as the orchestra’s first Hispanic music director he hopes to draw a more diverse audience to Jones Hall. “My top priority,” wrote the conductor from England, where he was conducting Don Giovanni at the prestigious Glyndebourne opera festival, “is to continue the orchestra’s legacy of artistic excellence, while further broadening the audience for orchestral music, especially within the growing Hispanic community.”

That outreach begins this month. Just a few days after he makes his official debut with a free concert at the Miller Outdoor Theatre, Orozco-Estrada will lead the Houston Symphony in a free Fiesta Sinfónica concert at Jones Hall in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Welcome to Houston, Andrés. We have a feeling you’ll like it here.

Show Comments