The Maestro: 5 Fascinating Facts about Christoph Eschenbach

The Maestro: 5 Fascinating Facts about Christoph Eschenbach

World-renowned conductor Christoph Eschenbach returns to Jones Hall to conduct Beethoven and Brahms 1. How well do you know the legendary maestro? Get to know this revered musician with these fun facts and reserve your seat for January 21–23!

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Christoph Eschenbach, conductor

1) He was the Houston Symphony’s music director from 1988 to 1999.

The Houston Symphony was Christoph Eschenbach’s first appointment to a major U.S. orchestra, and the eleven seasons he spent here are remembered as a high point in the Houston Symphony’s history. During his tenure, the orchestra went on tours to Europe and Asia and made many recordings of both new and classic works. Many orchestra musicians and patrons alike remember the Eschenbach era as a time of exciting music making and increased international recognition for the orchestra. Since 1999, he has served as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Orchestre de Paris and the National Symphony Orchestra and remains one of the most internationally sought-after conductors.

2) He was orphaned by the Nazis.

Christoph Eschenbach had a difficult start in life, swept up in forces of history that forever changed the world. He was born in Breslau, Germany (modern day Wrocław, Poland) on February 20, 1940 to Margarethe and Herbert Ringmann. His mother died in childbirth, and his father, an anti-Nazi activist, was captured by the Nazis and sent to fight in the front lines on the Eastern front in a “punishment battalion” where he was soon killed. After the loss of his father, the young Christoph did not speak for a year, and only broke his silence when asked if he wanted to play music. He was adopted by his mother’s cousin, Wallydore Eschenbach, in 1946.

3) Before he was a conductor, he was a world-renowned pianist.

Though he long had ambitions to be a conductor, Christoph Eschenbach began his musical career as a pianist. He toured all over the world as a soloist and made numerous acclaimed recordings. Even after becoming a conductor, he has continued to perform periodically as a pianist with orchestras and as a soloist and chamber musician.

4) He is a champion of young artists.

Christoph Eschenbach has a famous knack for discovering young talent and has gone out of his way to help promote the careers of up-and-coming artists on many occasions. Two of his most famous protégés are the soprano Renée Fleming and the pianist Lang Lang. His recording of Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs with Renee Fleming and the Houston Symphony is still considered by many to be one of the best recordings ever made of that piece.

The two young artists performing under Eschenbach’s baton this month—Jan Lisiecki and Stathis Karapanos—also took inspiration from the great maestro.

5) He has a vintage—and sometimes controversial—conducting style.

One of the defining moments of Christoph Eschenbach’s musical life came when he was just 11 years old. He attended an unforgettable orchestra concert conducted by the legendary Wilhelm Fürtwangler, a conductor famous for his subjective interpretations which often included constantly shifting tempos and expressive rubatos. Later, his conducting mentors would include Herbert von Karajan and George Szell.

Each of these conductors had very different conducting styles, and Christoph has a unique voice of his own, but it is safe to say that Christoph’s interpretations often harken back to an older, pre-historically informed performance practice tradition of conducting. Compare for instance his performance of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony with John Elliot Gardener’s. Christoph’s vintage conducting style has sometimes proven controversial among critics who favor a leaner, more modern approach, but for others he recalls an earlier, golden era of music making, especially in core German Romantic repertoire. Audiences will have the opportunity to hear his extraordinary musical gifts on full display in Eschenbach Conducts Beethoven & Brahms 1 at Jones Hall on January 21, 22, and 23.

Originally published February 2019

Don’t miss Christoph Eschenbach with the Houston Symphony return in the 2021–22 season! Visit houstonsymphony.org for tickets and more information.

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