Andrés Orozco-Estrada is devoted to the cause of attracting new audiences

Werner Kmetitsch

Born in Colombia but trained and now based in Vienna, conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada appreciates the necessity of straddling many worlds.

Since 2014, as the music director of the Houston Symphony, he has been on a mission to attract new audiences to classical music. (He will step down after this season to concentrate on his other posts, including chief conductor of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.) In Houston, he introduced post-concert Q&A sessions, short remarks from the podium, video interviews projected overhead between stage set-ups and other means of what he calls "building a relationship with the audience."

His approach appears to be working. A writer for the Texas online site Arts & Culture observed that he met a Venezuelan couple who were first-time attendees at a Houston Symphony concert — and who had gone to a performance by Cuban-American hip-hop superstar Pitbull the night before. "That kind of feedback," Orozco-Estrada told the writer, "is what gives me the energy to keep working hard and dreaming."

In an interview conducted for a CSO Radio broadcast, Orozco-Estrada discussed the urgency of growing the classical music audience. "Building a diverse audience is an important job. It's something I believe we have to do — all of us, the conductors, the musicians, the staff, marketing [departments]. But for me, the real question is how to build this audience.

"Because in one way, you could do, for example, light programs, with pieces that everybody somehow likes and knows anyway. And then in this way, you try to get a larger audience, bigger in terms of [mere] numbers. Which is good and also fine. But I like ... the less simple but more interesting way of trying to convince audiences to get to that point where they really want to try the whole symphonic experience, even though they don't know the pieces."

In December, Orozco-Estrada returns to Orchestra Hall, where he made his house debut in 2016, to lead the CSO in the world premiere of Gabriela Lena Frank's Haillí-Serenata. Also on the Dec. 9-11 program will be Dvořák's Violin Concerto, with CSO Artist-in-Residence Hilary Hahn as soloist, and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5

It's the kind of wide-ranging program that he regards as a perfect entry point for new audiences: "It has a variety of different kind of colors, it's a perfect program to experience different types of moods and styles." 

He likes to remind patrons to "give yourself the chance to hear and experience the concert. You will see this is a experience that is worth trying and something worth continuing to develop."

A version of this article was originally published on Sounds and Stories, the predecessor site of Experience CSO.

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