Andrés Orozco-Estrada, what do you prefer: conducting or listening to music? Conducting definitely – especially as listening is such an integral part of conducting anyway. Yet, I simply enjoy both shaping music and aiming to make a difference with it more. I really like it for instance when I notice that an audience member really goes – or even conducts – along. Of course, only as long as it doesn't bother the neighbours (laughs).
Is the conductor a little like the football coach at the edge of the pitch? Even though you’ve planned everything ahead, sometimes things don’t go the way you’d like them to? (Smiling) Yes, it can be like that — actually, I think this happens a lot. But the good thing is that these moments of freedom, of spontaneity, usually result in great musical events. You also have to be able to let go: you can’t always control everything, but you also have to trust the orchestra. If you as the conductor know where you have to lead and where you can simply go along and let the orchestra do its thing — then much has already been accomplished.
Is it sometimes also important to discover that something doesn’t sound anything like you imagined? Yes, of course. I’ll have a certain idea in mind, and then the orchestra comes, gives me another version, and behold — sometimes it’s actually much nicer this way. Then you just have to be intelligent and nimble enough to understand it and incorporate it. That’s also not a bad thing. The main thing is that you go through this process together. In the end, that’s also how you deliver an authentic performance.
How did you come to music? How would you describe the musical environment of your childhood in Colombia? I was very lucky. I attended a kind of music school, and at the age of six had my first violin lessons there. I was in a protected environment, which was very important for my development as a person. Especially when you bear in mind that those were difficult years in Colombia, especially in Medellín, where I’m from. Music was enormously helpful in that context.
You knew very early on that you wanted to become a musician. Did you ever think about a different career? Only football. I played a lot of football, as a goalkeeper — even though I’m actually relatively small. But back then I was always so full of energy and would just leap around like a madman (laughs). But I soon had to choose between training or attending rehearsals. I didn’t have to think twice — music was always most important.
In recent years, we’ve learned how seriously classical music is taken in South America … … if a person lives in circumstances in which their living conditions are more difficult, or even perhaps existentially problematic, then art and music take on a different meaning. You experience them differently as something that has the potential to change your life.
Vienna has been the centre of your life for many years. Why did you want to study in Vienna? On the one hand, of course, there was Vienna’s reputation as the world capital of classical music. And then there was also a famous school of conducting that interested me. Maestro Swarowsky, who himself was Music Director of the Symphoniker, died before I could ever meet him. But I knew about his talents and the heritage of his teachings. I knew that there was a way of conducting music here that I wanted to learn more about. And when I arrived, I found much more than that. I attended many rehearsals during my studies and sang in the Wiener Singverein. Observing so many conductors at work was tremendously instructive. If you are alert and attentive enough, you can learn and discover an unbelievable amount in Vienna.
What kind of student were you? I took music just as seriously as my life and was deeply absorbed in it. I would have liked to go back to Colombia that first summer, after I’d passed the entrance exam, but didn’t have any money. Then I thought, ‘I now have two months to learn everything I don't know.’ So, every day, I sat in the music section of the city library and studied the symphonies of among others Schubert, Haydn, Bruckner, Mahler – everything I hadn’t had access to before. That’s also how I came to love Vienna.
What are the most difficult sides to your profession? There are so many aspects to it: motivation is only one example. When you have several concerts, perhaps even with the same programme — such as when on tour — it becomes all the more important to maintain the tension. You have to tell both yourself and the musicians again and again: ok, we're going to give it our all now.
In the end, just as in any job, right? Exactly, as in life in general and in every relationship. You always have to make sure that you treat one another with respect and love, and renew this every day. Only in this way can things work in the long term and stay beautiful and healthy. It’s the same with the orchestra, and also with the audience. We must simply always be offering something, always keeping at it. That’s the only way we can form this connection so strongly that at the end of the day — this is also my goal — it doesn't matter what we program, because it's the way we make music that people want to experience, feel and hear.
Magic doesn’t happen in every performance, though, does it? No, you can’t expect it, but you always have to strive for it. I always try to give everything, in every rehearsal and in every concert. A concert is a high-stakes affair, but it’s also a sacred event. When you’re well-prepared and you give your all, then everything might fall into place, and magic is made. You never forget that, and it motivates you again and again.
What does Vienna mean for you? A feeling for life, quality of life, family. And above all: music. But also, much respect and gratitude. I was able to start my career here and to continue it — in the most beautiful concert halls one can imagine and in a city with so much history, so much culture, and with such a wonderful audience. The music that I can make here with the Symphoniker is my musical home. It’s truly like a dream — there’s no other way to describe it.
Is the feeling for life in Vienna also a musical one? I think so, absolutely. Concert life, as well, and everything that goes with it. I think the people here love music and live music. I can feel this, it’s very present. Every composer who has lived in Vienna has learned a lot here and left great things behind, and so has continued this tradition. Vienna is definitely an inspiration.
Will Vienna always be a city of music? If we don’t stop working at it, then, yes. If we don’t foster it, then probably not — as with everything in life. And that's exactly our job with the Wiener Symphoniker: to foster this tradition, this wealth of music, of composers, of history, to pass it on with great passion – and to try out new things simultaneously.
Who are your role models? Karajan? Bernstein? I have many. Karajan and Bernstein — I couldn’t choose between the two. Bernstein, with his temperament, his humanity and his emotion. Then Karajan, with his intellectual power and precision. The combination of these two extremes is the model to strive for. One must also talk about Carlos Kleiber in this context. In the technical sense, he was outstanding, but at the same time he also wielded great intuitive power. Or Harnoncourt’s interpretations and his thinking — I’ve taken away a lot from this. How much he emphasised the human element, how much character and heart he put into his work — that’s a great inspiration.
What sort of sprit do you encounter with the Symphoniker? First of all, great attentiveness and openness. They display a truly open mind, at a very high musical and technical level. There is also a very healthy interaction with the music and a real team spirit. That may not sound significant, but when you have been able to get to know musical life a little better, you learn that there are many orchestras in the world where things are completely different. Taken as a whole, we’re really a single instrument. It’s the common quest that propels us. My job is to give everything so that this orchestra becomes even better. I don’t plan to do anything other than to use my time here in such a way that it becomes a special chapter in the orchestra’s rich history.
Tradition and revolution: The upheaval around the finde- siècle also brought about the great birth of the Wiener Symphoniker. When we take a look at the history of everything the orchestra has premiered and played, and with which conductors — it’s incredible. That I now stand at this end of such an impressive lineage is a little daunting. But I embrace this challenge. And this with the Wiener Symphoniker, an orchestra that has done and still does everything in Vienna, for Vienna. The concerts in the Wiener Konzerthaus and in the Musikverein, but also many things outside of the subscription series — open-air concerts with free admission, great offers for children and young people. So, this is a real Viennese orchestra with all the greatest qualities.
What are your plans for the Symphoniker? An orchestra like the Symphoniker must be broadly versatile. You need the sound and the large emotion of Romanticism, but, just as much, the refinement, the transparency, the delicacy of Vienna Classicism. This orchestra is well-versed in both, and I want to connect these. As well as a focus on the tone poems of Richard Strauss and the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, we’ll turn increasingly to Joseph Haydn. We’ve planned a small but fine new series in which, through the performance of a Haydn symphony, we reveal how we work on aspects of style and on sound. I'll also moderate and look to interact with the audience. It will be something like a private concert in which the audience has a chance to be right up close to the orchestra.
You’ve also planned a special inaugural concert. This is also an opportunity where I can introduce myself anew to the audience. We’ve chosen a great programme for this, featuring, among other pieces, works that were premiered by the orchestra at the beginning of the 20th century. As a counterpoint to that, I wanted to bring a young voice onto the platform to start things off. And so a young composer will write a new work for the occasion. I want to use it to greet the people, this time with the music coming from all around the auditorium. I’ll need to turn around to conduct it — so the audience and I will be facing each other. This sign of openness is important to me. It says: I’m there — I’m there for the audience, for Vienna, and for this orchestra.