Houston, we have no conductor

Houston, we have no conductor


norman lebrecht

May 09, 2021

A mix-up with his Covid paperwork has revented Houston Symphony’s music director Andrés Orozco-Estrada from rejoining his orchestra after more than a year’s absence.

He is stuck in Austria with an expired travel permit and won’t be back in Houston for several month.

Apart from the orchestra, his mother is the most disappointed because she flew in from Colombia hoping to see him.

David Robertson has taken over his concerts.

Report here.




  • Rachelle Goldberg says:

    Having had the opportunity to be in Houston about six years ago I was fortunate to hear them They are a very fine Orchestra. On that occasion they were conducted by Edo De Waart

  • An opinionated woman says:

    The current US visa situation is a nightmare for artists. Their petitions get approved by USCIS but the consulates aren’t open or are only processing a limited number of visas. And then there is the whole National Interest Exemption problem, which might be what happened here. It not enough to get your visa approved and stamped into your passport. You have to also now submit paperwork that proves that the work you do is vital to the US during this time. And that determination is solely in the hands of whatever agent at the consulate reviews your case. I know of a few cases where artists have had their visas approved but couldn’t get the NIE. The hope was that the new administration would reverse the NIE policy put in place by the last administration but that hasn’t happened yet.

    • John says:

      The Biden administration instead tightened the NIE policy, on March 2. Previously, performing artists were allowed in; no longer. Houston is not the only orchestra in the US to have missed weeks with their Music Director recently because of this nonsensical policy.

  • Houston Symphony fan says:

    There was not a mix-up with his paperwork, as you falsely report. The National Travel Exception for his travel to the US was denied by US officials in Austria. Consulates in other countries have recently either granted or overturned these denials since the rules changed in March 2021, but despite the many and exhaustive efforts by the Houston Symphony, Maestro Orozco-Estrada’s was not able to be overturned. A very frustrating situation for both Orozco-Estrada and the orchestra.

  • RW2013 says:

    Sydney also thought that Robertson was “no conductor”.

  • fflambeau says:

    How good a conductor can be if he is not in tune with the covid rules? “And part of the frustration is how different travel is in different places. Here in Europe, different countries have had different ways to act or react to the situation.” Sorry, Maestro, everyone everywhere has problems; you should have planned better. Sounds like a way to get you out and maybe that’s good.

  • fflambeau says:

    This story or explanation makes no sense:

    1) conductors are smart; he would have known covid rules, regulations and problems;
    2) even if he didn’t and he isn’t a “detail person”, the Houston Symphony would have tons of personal assistants who are;
    3) They have a lot of money and pull in the government; a snafu seems unlikely;
    4) A replacement was all too handy;
    5) mama being used as a legitimizing excuse (very much like a Latin man to hide behind mama’s skirts)? By the way, how is it that mama could come to Texas from Columbia but the Maestro cannot from Germany? In short, the official explanation stinks.

    I suspect what really happened was that the two
    groups have had a parting of the ways and this was seen as a convenient way to sidestep it. No bad publicity. Maestro gets to stay in Europe and probably gets paid while looking for a job. Meanwhile, Houston seems to have a more than adequate replacement already. No one gets hurt; it was covid’s fault. Or, government regulations. Blah, blah.

    • Entering the US is harder than you think says:

      All artists from Europe with engagements in the US, as well as US orchestras trying to keep the engagements, know better than you, unfortunately. Whether or not someone’s NIE is granted, is a total coincidence at this point. If you knew some of the names of soloists and conductors (many of them at the level of Orozco-Estrada) whose applications have been turned down, you’d be surprised. Then again, they probably only count for you if Norman wrote about them. He doesn’t know half of the stuff, though.
      Others have been lucky because some embassies are easier to get along, some artists have different visa categories, and some have the money to bribe someone.
      Also, the travel ban for entering the US affects people travelling from China, Iran, EU Schengen Area, UK, Ireland, Brazil, South Africa and India. Apparently not Columbia. It was an honor to research that for you within 5 seconds.

      • fflambeau says:

        If what you say is true, why not Columbia (home to drugs and racketeering)? Sorry. It makes no sense.

        • Houston Symphony fan says:

          There is a 14-day period that someone must be in a non-restricted country before they can enter the US. So, traveling from Europe via Colombia (the country, not Columbia the university) would not have helped unless Austria had issued the denial in enough time to allow for this change of routing.

  • Larry W says:

    The concert, originally designed by Andrés Orozco-Estrada, featured each section of the orchestra. Last minute replacement David Robertson provided expert direction for three fantastic concerts. Especially notable was a stunning performance of Piazzolla’s Four Seasons with concert-master Yoonshin Song.

  • fflambeau says:

    Did the conductor or anyone in Houston do any of these things:

    What To Do When Denied Entry to the US at the Airport
    You will probably be standing in the airport terminal when you discover that you have been denied entrance into the United States. When you receive this bad news, you must follow these steps before doing anything else. Arguing will not help and will usually hurt your case. If you can, consider returning home and consulting with a US immigration attorney to ensure that you can re-enter the US again. Contact your airline to see if you can get a refund for your ticket.

    Ask for patience: If you can avoid having your record officially entered as denied entry, you will benefit in the long run. Ask to call a lawyer first if possible. VisaPlace Legal have lots of experience helping people out who have been denied entry and can provide the guidance you’ll need to overturn the decision, if possible.
    Ask follow-up questions: Do so in a calm, non-threatening manner and do not accept “no” for an answer. If you are shown disrespect, remain calm and continue to ask questions.
    Take notes: It is essential to write the responses to each of your questions regarding your denied entry. Be as detailed as possible.
    Find a quiet place to collect your details: You want to pay particular attention to your paperwork at this time. You will likely have been given the reason for your denial. Recheck all paperwork to confirm the details of your entry refusal.
    Call a lawyer:…”


    There are lots of professional places out there to provide help. If you really want it.