From the moment when Andrés Orozco-Estrada stepped onto the podium to lead his first concert with the Houston Symphony, the musicians knew they had found their guy. There was chemistry. There were sparks. And then there was passionate music.
It's fitting that in announcing its 2014-15 concert lineup on Friday night, the Houston Symphony themed the official inaugural season of the Colombian-born music director "Conducting Electricity," a nod to the the synergies between his stimulating conducting style, the 87 orchestral players and a hungry audience aching to be moved.
"I want to make music in a way that brings everyone together," Orozco-Estrada tells CultureMap. "My goal is for my guests to experience what can only happen in live performance — the excitement, the energy, the magic. If you've never been to a Houston Symphony concert, I promise to make this a thrilling experience."
Will you accept his invitation? Here's how the season unfolds.
You can expect the Opening Night Concert and Gala (Sept. 13) at the Corinthian to be a sold-out social affair teeming with the who's who of the city's philanthropists. British trumpeter and 2013 Gramophone Artist of the Year Alison Balsom is front and center for Haydn's Trumpet Concerto plus Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and Mozart's Overture to the Marriage of Figaro.
SIX DON'T MISS CONCERTS WITH OROZCO-ESTRADA
The horns will wail and the woodwinds will twirl in Richard Strauss' Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life), a tone poem of epic proportions, scheduled as part of Watts Play Rachmaninoff (Sept. 19-21). Pianist André Watts joins Orozco-Estrada for the opulent Piano Concerto No. 2 by Rachmaninoff. Of note in this program is the world premiere of a commission by the Houston Symphony from composer Gabriela Lena Frank, who will serve as artist-in-residence for a community engagement program.
Is there such thing as too much Beethoven?
The symphony doesn't think so with the series Three Weeks of Beethoven Nov. 14-30), the first installment of a Beethoven Cycle to be completed in subsequent seasons. His first, fourth and fifth symphonies plus the overtures to Coriolan and Egmont are complemented by other important repertoire of the region, including Brahms' Schicksalslied, Mozart's Requiem and Schumann's Cello Concerto with principal cellist Brinton Averil Smith.
The Vienna-trained music director has a penchant for opera, but without a theater suitable for full productions, Orozco-Estrada is trying the next best thing. Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio (Jan. 23-25, 2015) will be performed in concert version with the help of vocal students from the Shepherd School of Music and the Moores School of Music. The main roles will be cast with singers of international repute.
"If you've never been to a Houston Symphony concert, I promise to make this a thrilling experience."
Beethoven and Bartók (May 7-10, 2015) couples two completely different works that test the dexterity of the soloists. Violinist James Ehnes will interpret Beethoven's Violin Concerto while the full ensemble shows their goods in Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra.
Lang Lang Joins Andrés (May 12, 2015) reunites the flamboyant piano badass with Orozco-Estrada for one night only. Expect tuneful fireworks and lots of gratuitous head bangs and facial expressions from the main man.
Mahler's Symphony No. 3 (May 15-17, 2015) brings the classical season to a close. The massive orchestral forces are complemented by the women of the Houston Symphony Chorus for this longest symphony among the standards.
UP-CLOSE AND PERSONAL
No more Access concerts, a format that attempted to add an educational and social component to traditional performances. Instead, Musically Speaking with Andrés (Jan. 15, March 12 and May 7, 2015) at Rice University reinvents the concept with interactive talks with Orozco-Estrada. In addition, the maestro will be available after several concerts to engage in informal question-and-answer sessions with patrons. Cyber savvy guests can even interact with him using hashtag #1415AndresHS on Twitter.
Remember Sarah Chang? The violinist is back for Sarah Chang Plus Copland (Oct. 2-5) to perform Barber's Violin Concerto. Beefing up the program led by conductor Cristian Macelaru is local composer Karim Al-Zand's City Scenes.
Always popular with audiences of every walk of life, Andrea Bocelli (Dec. 10) headlines a concert at the Toyota Center.
Classical music celeb Itzhak Perlman (Feb. 12-15, 2015) conducts and plays fiddle in Bach's Violin Concerto No. 2 and Schubert's Symphony No. 9. In between that concert run, Bernadette Peters (Feb. 13, 2015) comes to town for a Valentine's soirée filled with popular Broadway tunes.
The passionate maestro Robert Spano leads Ohlsson Plays Chopin (April 17-19, 2015) with pianist Garrick Ohlsson tickling the ivories to Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1. Also on the program are two works by American composer Jennifer Higdon, an effort by the Houston Symphony to showcase more works by female composers.
Ravel and Debussy (Oct. 23-26) sees the return of former Houston Symphony music director Hans Graf in a concert with piano virtuoso Jon Kimura Parker. Graf will travel back for Graf Conducts Schumann (Feb. 20-22, 2015) to share music by Hindemith, Saint-Saëns and Schumann.
The first concert of the year happens to be free. ¡Bienvenido, Andrés! (Sept. 12) at Miller Outdoor Theatre introduces Orozco-Estrada to the city with a program that highlights music from the Americas. Adding prowess to this playbill is Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero, who's known for her ability to improvise on the spot.
Fiesta Sinfonica con Andrés (Sept. 14) at Jones Hall continues the welcoming ceremonies with Orozco-Estrada again with Montero in a program that celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month.
Think of the Second Annual Day of Music (July 12) as a cacophonous 12-hour concert marathon in which Jones Hall transforms into a showcase of many music presenters of all genres in Houston, including jazz, rock, blues, cultural groups, choirs and on and on.
WHAT TO DO
Season subscriptions — which are available in packages that include three to 18 concerts — start at $99. Subscriptions may be purchased online or by calling 713-224-7575.
Stay tuned (pun intended) for CultureMap's coverage of the Houston Symphony's new Cynthia Woods Mitchell POPS season at Jones Hall.