James Gaffigan

Chief Conductor: Luzerner Sinfonieorchester

Principal Guest Conductor: Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

© David Künzler & Melchior Bürgi


Hailed for the natural ease of his conducting and the compelling insight of his musicianship, James Gaffigan continues to attract international attention and is one of the most outstanding American conductors working today.

Engagements this season have included appearances with the Symphony Orchestras of Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto, Detroit, Sydney Bournemouth and the BBC Symphony Orchestra; Oslo Philharmonic, Seoul Philharmonic and Los Angeles Philharmonic; the Orchestre de Paris and Orchestre National de France; Simon Boccanegra with the Netherlands Radio Symphony and his debut with the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra.

In the 2017/18 season James will appear with the Chicago Symphony, Dallas Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, in addition to commitments with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra and Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. James will make his debuts with the Lyric Opera of Chicago with a production of Così Fan Tutte, and with Santa Fe Opera with Ariadne auf Naxos, and will return to the Wiener Staatsoper Opera for La Traviata. Further ahead James will make his debuts at the Netherlands Opera and the Metropolitan Opera.

Performance Schedule



  • 14 Dec 17 REVIEW: BRAHMS Violin Concerto Violin Sonata No 1 CD Listed in 'Top 10 Violin Concertos 2017'
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    “A student of, among others, the famous violin pedagogue Zakhar Bron, Vadim Gluzman carries forwards a Russian-Jewish playing tradition that hails back to Jascha Heifetz, David Oistrakh and Leonid Kogan, with Maxim Vengerov and Vadim Repin representing the younger generation. I make the point because all these players display a roster of traits that marks them out as part of an age-old violinistic community: a seductively sweet tone, a biting attack of the bow, agility, brilliance, a flexible approach to phrasing and a perfect balance of head and heart. Of course, there are countless players who hail from other traditions who also lay claim to these and similar virtues, but spend just a few minutes in the company of Gluzman’s Brahms Concerto and, to call on an obvious cliché, you ‘know where he’s coming from’.

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    Listen from 9’57” in the first movement and you’ll hear Gluzman’s mellow tone, sensitively judged chords, unforced passagework, neat trills and (at 11’28”) athletic leaps that hit their target each time. He is also the master of Joachim’s cadenza, a most beautiful performance; his Adagio truly sings (James Gaffigan directs a helpfully flowing accompaniment), while the closing Allegro giocoso dances to a light, winning lilt. Here most of all the collaboration with Gaffigan and his on-the ball Lucerne players works well, though their contribution to the first movement might have benefited from a little more grit and muscle.

    Climbing down from the majesty of the Concerto to the intimacy of the G major Sonata, Gluzman is very ably supported by pianist Angela Yoffe, who sees to it that Brahms’s contrapuntally hyperactive piano-writing tells with crystal clarity. Again, a malleable approach to phrasing keeps arguments fresh and meaningful while Gluzman’s tone is if anything even sweeter and more expressively yielding than in the concerto. The finale’s wistful opening is especially affecting and the programme’s closing ‘F A E’ Scherzo relates alternating unrest and passion as vividly as, say, Perlman with Argerich or Ferras with Barbizet.

    An excellent disc, then, with high-rating performances and good sound. In the digital/SACD field I can’t think of a Brahms Violin Concerto that I prefer, though Repin with Chailly (DG in standard stereo, generously coupled with the Double Concerto) is easily as good.”

    Rob Cowan, Gramophone, 14 December

  • 30 Nov 17 The Beethoven Project CD Oliver Schnyder, Luzerner Sinfonieorchester
    Sony Classical
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    “Das Hauptmerkmal dieser Aufnahme ist die Differenzierung. Oder richtiger: die Differenzierungen. Es ist der faszinierende Wechsel von Farben, Rhythmen und Dynamik, sowie das Spiel mit den Schattierungen, die diese Beethoven-Aufnahmen so spannend werden lassen. Hinzu kommt eine Kunst feinjustierter Akzentuierung und spontan wirkender Artikulierung sowie eine Aufwertung auch des scheinbar nebensächlichsten Details im Klavier so gut wie im Orchester. Diese Ausgestaltung zeugt von einem klaren Konzept, das unbeirrbar und konsequent in den fünf Konzerten zur Anwendung gelangt. Dabei halten diese Interpretationen eine durchaus gesunde Mitte zwischen, einerseits, rhythmischer Energie, Spontaneität und Elan, andererseits, ausdrucksmäßiger Differenziertheit, in der auch das Lyrische Platz findet. James Gaffigan und das Luzerner Sinfonieorchester sind für Schnyder einfühlsame Partner, die mit dem Pianisten hundertprozentig harmonieren, wobei Gaffigan im Zusammenspiel mit dem Solisten diesem nie seine erste Stelle strittig macht. Der Dirigent begleitet mit einem stets leichten, aber nie unverbindlichen Klang und formt auch die Ouvertüren spannend und klanglich sehr ausgewogen.

    Das energisch gespannte, leuchtkräftige Klavierspiel fasziniert freilich am meisten. Schnyder findet, was ich mir im Idealfall unter Beethovenscher Attacke vorstelle.

    Wer also eine von der Tontechnik sehr gute aufgenommene, musikalisch ausgewogene und durchgehend rhetorisch-spannende, im Grunde klassische, d.h. experimentfreie und zeitlos gültige Interpretationen sucht, wird hier bestens bedient.”

    Remy Franck, Pizzicato, 30 November 17

  • 02 Nov 17 COPLAND, RACHMANINOFF, TCHAIKOVSKY Dallas Symphony Orchestra
    Meyerson Symphony Center
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    “Gaffigan is a fine and highly skilled conductor with superb musicianship. He is young, energetic and skilled in the standard repertoire as well as an advocate for new music. But most importantly, he lets the members of the orchestra play without trying to micromanage how every note sounds. He is a strong candidate to invite to stick around.”

    Gregory Sullivan Isaacs, TheaterJones, 7 November 17

  • 02 Nov 17 COPLAND, RACHMANINOFF, TCHAIKOVSKY Dallas Symphony Orchestra
    Meyerson Symphony Center
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    “Conducting without a score, Gaffigan obviously had Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony in his heartbeat and respiration. Pacing and dynamics were strategically gauged but felt entirely organic. Decrescendos were as gripping as crescendos. Phrases were warmly shaped. At just the right moments, Gaffigan had the brasses blazing through, thrillingly, as they would in a Russian orchestra.”

    Scott Cantrell, Dallas News, 3 November 2017

  • 02 Nov 17 COPLAND, RACHMANINOFF, TCHAIKOVSKY Dallas Symphony Orchestra
    Meyerson Symphony Center
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    “Gaffigan tuned in to Hough’s reading to provide a nicely momentous performance, finding high drama and even occasional surprises in this familiar work.”

    Wayne Lee Gay, Texas Classical Review, 3 November 17

  • 26 Oct 17 BERNSTEIN, BARBER, RACHMANINOV Chicago Symphony Orchestra
    Chicago Symphony Center
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    “Gaffigan is a terrific advocate for Bernstein’s music and he drew a reading both powerful and sensitive (in the love music) from the CSO, which had just returned from a two-week West Coast tour and sounded not a bit travel-worn on Thursday night. The pages evoking the film’s dockside violence erupted in a fierce fusillade of drums, and Daniel Gingrich’s opening horn solo struck the right mood of urban melodrama.”
    John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, 27 October 2017

  • 06 Oct 16 Prokofiev 'Cinderella' & Vine 'Five Hallucinations' Chicago Symphony Orchestra
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    “One could hardly have imagined a more successful world premiere… Gaffigan’s direction was just as exemplary, balancing the large forces skillfully against the soloist, allowing Vine’s colorful writing to register clearly, and drawing dynamic and responsive playing from the orchestra.”
    Lawrence A, Johnson, Chicago Classical Review, 7 October 2016

    “Gaffigan, the rising young American chief conductor of the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra in Switzerland, was taking care of subscription series business for a week while Riccardo Muti was taking a scheduled break from his fall residency to study scores at his home in Ravenna, Italy. Gaffigan’s fine showing made him much more than a glorified placeholder.
    He surrounded the Vine piece with two works of literary inspiration, both absent from the CSO repertory since 2004: Cesar Franck’s “Le chasseur maudit” (“The Accursed Huntsman”) and an extended suite from Prokofiev’s ballet “Cinderella.” Both drew assured accounts that supported his growing reputation as one of the more gifted American conductors of his generation.”
    John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, 7 October 2016

  • 23 Sep 16 MOZART 'Le nozze di Figaro'
    Washington National Opera
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    “From the first triumphant swells of an overture famous in its own right, before the curtain even opens, Conductor James Gaffigan and the Washington National Opera (WNO) make it clear that we are in for a musical treat.”
    Julia Hurley, DC Metro Theater Arts, 23 September 2016

    “Conductor James Gaffigan made his WNO debut with this production, and how wonderfully he brought out the colors and
    mathematically-structured precision of Mozart’s score! More importantly, he set the tone for the show (adapted from a recent production at Glimmerglass Festival): this production would be positively impish and
    easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy fun. The back and forth interplay of instruments articulated deftly so that they became like additional characters who were entering into the chatty dialogue.”
    Susan Galbraith, DC Theatre Scene, 26 September 2016

  • 12 Dec 15 Beethoven Symphony no. 4 & Andrew Norman 'Split' New York Philharmonic Orchestra
    David Geffen Hall
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    “Mr. Gaffigan, who is thriving as the chief conductor of the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, led a bracing performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony, chosen because it’s an ebullient piece full of that master’s equivalent of jump cuts. Strauss’s popular tone poem tells the story of Till Eulenspiegel, an actual prankster. Mr. Gaffigan conducted an uncommonly brash account that made the music seem ominously playful. Much like “Split.””
    Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, 12 December 2015

  • 17 Oct 14 DVORAK Symphony No 6; American Suite Op 98b
    Harmonia Mundi
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    “The opening bars of the symphony signal something quite out of the ordinary … Lightness, transparency, geniality, warmth and a keen sense of symphonic inexorability – these and other admirable qualities keep the first movement of Gaffigan’s Dvorak Sixth consistently engaging. His pacing is near ideal (relaxed yet animated), his seamless handling of the movement’s second set artfully judged… Gaffigan and his Lucerne players offer a performance that combines exuberance with the utmost delicacy (try 1’22” into the second movement). This is a wonderful CD, my first encounter with Gaffigan and his players. I can’t wait to hear more.”
    Rob Cowan, Gramophone, Awards Edition 2014

    “Gaffigan’s performance of the American Suite is as delightful as the music: melody is well to the fore with no sense of this unpretentious music being patronised.”
    Jan Smaczny, BBC Music Magazine

    “James Gaffigan is a thoroughly genial guide to Dvorák’s Sixth Symphony, one of the composer’s most consistently sunny works. The American conductor finds plenty of bite in the distinctive twists and turns of the furiant (a Czech dance) that Dvorák used for the Scherzo, and he certainly doesn’t shirk the implications of the dark clouds that occasionally gather over a work that’s often described as being pastoral in nature. But the standout characteristic of the performance is the way Gaffigan delights in, as it were, drawing attention to the special beauties of the gorgeous landscapes he’s leading his listeners through.”
    Michael Dervan, The Irish Times, 17 October 2014

    “Dvorák’s Sixth Symphony (1880), with its cross-rhythm “Furiant” Scherzo and soaring melodies, was written for Vienna but is as richly and distinctively Slavonic as anything the composer wrote. It has a tender inner spirit and benign fervour – deliciously explored here in a warm, subtle performance delivered with pin-sharp exactitude. If the opening bars sound like a tribute to the Symphony No 2 of Dvorák’s friend Brahms, the work unfolds with a style and imprint that could only be Dvorák’s. Originally for piano, the American Suite (1894), weaving New World jazziness with old Bohemian folk, is buoyant and wistful in this orchestral version, full of those sliding key shifts Dvorák loved. Switzerland’s oldest orchestra and conductor James Gaffigan make a beguiling, expert team”
    Fiona Maddocks, The Observer, 5 October 2014