|February 18, 2014
Conductor James Gaffigan’s 2014 U.S. homecoming
American conductor James Gaffigan, who has established himself as a prominent music director in Europe as Chief Conductor of the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, Principal Guest Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne, returns home in 2014 to guest-conduct leading American orchestras including the Cincinnati, Houston, New World and St. Louis symphonies. Mr. Gaffigan conducts a wide range of repertoire from Romantic-era works by Mendelssohn and Brahms, to Russian warhorses by Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich, to a 20th-century American work by Tobias Picker, among others.
Following a successful coaching residency during September 2012 where he worked with New World Symphony (NWS) Fellows, Mr. Gaffigan returned to Miami earlier this year to lead the NWS in Verdi’s Overture to I vespri siciliani, Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony and Mozart’s “Turkish” Violin Concerto No. 5 with violinist Hilary Hahn. Mr. Gaffigan’s conducting performance was praised by the South Florida Classical Review:
“Under Gaffigan’s spirited direction, the orchestra played the opera overture as if it were the main event, with rich, weighted tones in the brass, resonant solos by the cello section and a streak of dynamism throughout that lifted it above the typical concert opener.
“Gaffigan took the first movement slower than usual, and this allowed him to draw immense tension and drama from the music, with attention to inner voices that made Prokofiev’s symphony seem both fresher and stranger than usual. The crescendo at the end had a volcanic quality, with rumblings of immense power, despite the initial low volume, allowing the climax to come with crushing force … The second movement had an almost frantic quality, with brass particularly impressive. The third movement was as mysterious as ever, with Gaffigan and the New World players bringing out its otherworldly, light-dark tone.”
In February, Mr. Gaffigan conducted the St. Louis Symphony in Brahms’s Double Concerto bookended by two Mendelssohn works, including a “beautifully” played overture from “Die Schönen Melusine” and Symphony No. 3 (Sarah Bryan Miller, St. Louis Post-Dispatch). In her review of the concert, Ms. Miller also said: “He had the measure of these scores and conducted them with strength and style. He’s clear about what he wants, and his ideas are sound.”
Mr. Gaffigan conducts the Houston Symphony featuring pianist Daniil Trifonov on Saturday, March 1 and Sunday, March 2 and closes the Cincinnati Symphony’s season with violinist Nicola Benedetti on Friday, May 2 and Saturday, May 3.
2014 European directorships, debuts and Dresden
Mr. Gaffigan made his debut with the London Symphony conducting Debussy’s La mer, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Yuja Wang, and suites from Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé on February 13. Classical Source reviewed the concert saying:
“In this case of a 34-year-old American conductor making his debut with the LSO it seemed likely that James Gaffigan would use the occasion to try and impress orchestra and audience alike with an immediate demonstration of virtuoso podium brilliance… To Gaffigan’s great credit we heard an acutely sensitive, refined and subtly nuanced performance. There was no doubting his control of the orchestra, particularly in the way he generally kept dynamic levels down to the point where Debussy’s unique instrumental timbres were allowed to make natural and maximum effect. The work’s strong but often reserved expression and sense of awe and mystery were beautifully conveyed, and this approach meant that when the big climaxes came they made a proper impact. It was a good idea to present the work as a whole, with only the shortest of breaks between the three movements.”
He also makes his debut with the Orchestre de Paris on Wednesday, February 19 conducting works by Weill, Korngold and Prokofiev.
On Saturday, March 15 and Sunday, March 16, Mr. Gaffigan leads the Dresden Philharmonic with pianist Kirill Gerstein in a performance of Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand in D major. The programming of this piece is timely – in the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I this year – as Ravel wrote the piece for Paul Wittgenstein, brother of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in the War. In a New York Times article about the commemoration of the anniversary of the war by the music world, Kirill Gerstein said of the Ravel concerto, “There’s the biographical element of the piece. It is for one hand, and we all know why the other hand is not present. But I also think that the piece is unique: It is one of a handful of pieces that is truly very dark in Ravel. I always find that it has this kind of dark glow.”
Three European residencies
Mr. Gaffigan continues his three European residencies this season with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, the Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra.
When Mr. Gaffigan was appointed as the principal guest conductor of Cologne’s Gürzenich Orchestra in in 2012, he told Musical America that he “felt an instant chemistry” with the orchestra since their first encounter. “There are few orchestras that are equally skilled at playing both concert and operatic repertoire – the Gürzenich Orchestra is one of them. Their operatic playing gives them a flexibility that excites me and inspires me.”
During concerts on Sunday, March 9 – Tuesday, March 11, Mr. Gaffigan leads the Gürzenich Orchestra in works by Janáček, Byström and Dvořák, showcasing the orchestra’s talent for playing both classic and more dramatic works.
Mr. Gaffigan conducts works by Gluck, Schubert and Berlioz with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra for two concerts on Wednesday, March 26 and Thursday, March 27, and returns for two concerts on Wednesday, April 16 and Thursday, April 17 featuring works by Beethoven, Sibelius and Brahms.
Equally at home on the podium conducting opera, on Saturday, May 17, Mr. Gaffigan leads the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic for a concert performance of Dvořák’s Rusalka, Op. 114 at the Concertgebouw. The opera stars soprano Joyce El-Khoury as Rusalka – a role she also performs this season with the San Antonio Symphony in collaboration with the San Antonio Opera, and Opera North Carolina – and Czech tenor Ladislav Elgr in the role of the Prince.
James Gaffigan on record
In June 2013 Harmonia Mundi released Gaffigan’s recording of Wolfgang Rihm’s four-part symphonic cycle Nähe Fern with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra (LSO). (Available for purchase at Harmonia Mundi, Amazon, and iTunes.) Gaffigan conducted the world premiere performance of the piece, which was commissioned by the LSO, on April 20, 2013 with baritone soloist Hans Christoph Begemann at the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland.
The Examiner reviewed the recording saying, “Those who make that commitment will be richly rewarded. The combined efforts of both audio capture and editing that went into making this recording have led to a first-rate account of Rihm’s textures in all of their rich qualities. The mind of the attentive listener is free to navigate through those textures, choosing to follow different threads on different listening occasions. This is thus far more than simply an attempt to provide a faithful document of a major event at the 2012 Lucerne Festival. It is a recording of qualities likely to endure with as much strength as will concert performances of the music that has been documented.”