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Energetic guest conductor inspires fresh performances

| Saturday, March 28, 2015, 12:01 a.m.

The Heinz Hall debut of conductor Andres Orozco-Estrada was quite an occasion Friday night because he showed many levels of mastery and inspired the musicians to emotionally generous performances.

Orozco-Estrada, 37, became music director of the Houston Symphony in September. He is energetic and passionate, but also possesses genuine lyrical sensibilities and is exceptionally attuned to full orchestral textures.

He opened with a decisive account of Mason Bates “The Rise of Exotic Computing,” the premiere of which was given by the Pittsburgh Symphony at the Club Static on April 5, 2013.

The piece was inspired by the idea of synthetic computing – computers generating their own ideas. Bates runs with it by using short motifs, which jump from instrument to instrument. Some ideas bring minimalism to mind, but Bates' musical thinking is far more playful and engaging.

The members of the horn section were the stars in a thrilling performance of Robert Schumann's “Konzertstuck for Four Horns.” The tonal richness produced by William Caballero, Robert Lauver, Mark Houghton and Joseph Rounds was a joy to the ear. Caballero and Lauver played beautifully in the slow movement, while the virtuosity of all four players in the finale was a tour de force at a break-neck tempo.

The fun encore was Lauver's arrangement of David Rose's “Holiday for Strings,” renamed “Holiday for Horns.”

Orozco-Estrada led accompaniment that was with the soloists every step of the way.

But the guest conductor really showed his mettle in a terrific performance of Johannes Brahms' “Symphony No. 1.” The music is ultra-familiar, yet Orozco-Estrada found ways to keep it constantly fresh. None of it depended on distortion or exaggeration – just inspiring musicianship.

The pacing felt entirely natural in all four movements, and was adjusted with sensitivity and taste. Guest concertmaster Nathan Olson offered nicely played solos in the slow movement, but there were remarkable solos from all the principal winds.

This concert will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $25.75 to $105.75. Details: 412-392-4900 or pittsburghsymphony.org.

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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