Houston Symphony on European tour | Music | DW | 10.03.2018
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Houston Symphony on European tour

After a long, dreary winter, the orchestra and its music director Andrés Orozco-Estrada are bringing Texan sunshine to eight cities in central Europe, starting in Brussels. European and US works are on the program.

He drives the music forward with wide, sweeping gestures, cajoling and beseeching his musicians, coaxing, teasing, sometimes conspiring, seemingly trying to maintain eye contact with each of the more than 100 players simultaneously.

Then, during the fourth movement of Antonín Dvořák's Seventh Symphony, after 30 minutes of building tension, a door suddenly opens on one side. Voices are heard, someone lies on the floor. Awash in an orchestral fortissimo, the conductor registers the apparent medical emergency and stops the performance even though it is being broadcast live on radio. A few seconds later the door closes, and he leads the concert to a furioso conclusion, as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

"I didn't want to ignore it, but to respect the situation and then keep going from where we broke off," Andrés Orozco-Estrada later explained to DW. "It was unexpected, of course, but that's how life sometimes is."

The reaction to the emergency and the explanation sum up this conductor: On top of the moment, he reacts spontaneously – and keeps his cool. To him, a work of classical music is not sacred and distant but fully rooted in the here and now.

Playing for one's life

Music director of the Houston Symphony since the 2014-15 season, Orozco-Estrada has now taken it on European tour, beginning on Friday (09.03.2018) in Brussels and continuing on to Essen, Berlin, Warsaw, Vienna, Hamburg and Hanover before the final stop in Munich on March 19. With symphonies by Dvořák and Shostakovich – and various works by Leonard Bernstein – on the program, the musicians are joined by American violinist Hilary Hahn. At the concert in Brussels, she performed in Bernstein's Serenade after Plato's Symposium with a poise that counterbalanced Orozco-Estrada's emphatic conducting.

That emphasis led to a sound that seldom went under the level of mezzo-forte in Brussels' BOZAR Hall, but it also fits the 40-year-old Colombian's strategy of energizing the Houston Symphony after decades of central European discipline from his predecessors, the German Christoph Eschenbach and the Austrian Hans Graf. "Every concert can be different," says cellist Christopher French, describing the Orozco-Estrada era. "He'll throw us a curve, just to keep us on our toes."

Houston Symphony Orchester und sein Chefdirigent Andrés Orozco-Estrada (Susanne Diesner)

Performance in Brussels' BOZAR Hall

Also the principal conductor of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, Orozco-Estrada does, in fact, conduct as though his life depended on it. "Every moment counts," he says, his convictions given further credibility by his personal biography. Growing up in Medellin, a city torn by the drug trade, he found respite from the violence in music lessons and later completed his studies in Vienna.

"Life can be strange," he says. "You can live in a beautiful city but at some point you walk through the street, see the buildings and don't notice that they are great pieces of art. It‘s the same with music. I think the goal and the challenge at the same time is to stay connected with the single, individual experience which is music. It's always alive, and it's always special."

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