James Gaffigan is winding up his series of debut concerts with the San
Francisco Symphony this weekend, featuring Brahms' Third Symphony, then
leaves for Frankfurt to lead performances of Bruckner's Symphony No. 6.
Meanwhile, he talks about opera, "my favorite genre."
Why opera? Because "I am not a great pianist but I love to accompany
artists, and I feel most comfortable in the pit of an opera house."
Although he turned down an important staff position with the Zurich
Opera (where he had led performances of "La Boheme"), coming instead to
San Francisco to become MTT's associate conductor, he dreams of leading
"Otello," "Cosi fan tutte," "Abduction from the Seraglio," and admits
to be a "Tristan maniac." All that and this: Gaffigan's fiancee is an
Born in Staten Island 27 years ago, Gaffigan's musical career started
in early childhood when his (non-musician, but music-loving) parents
bought a piano for themselves, almost immediately displaced at the
keyboard by the youngster. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art (of
"Fame" fame) followed, Gaffigan playing jazz guitar and bassoon, but by
the time he arrived at the New England Conservatory, his goal was to
become a conductor.
He led an orchestra for the first time at rehearsals of the Dvorak Eighth
Symphony, and then created conducting opportunities for himself by leading
new works "in search of performances" written by faculty members.
During his graduate school years, at Rice, Gaffigan frequently attended
Houston Grand Opera performances, and to this day, he speaks with respect
of David Gockley's leadership there. (The two are neighbors now, the
man from Rice in Davies Hall, Gockley heading the San Francisco Opera,
across Grove Street.)
The well-traveled young conductor participated in the 2000 inaugural
year of David Zinman's American Academy of Conducting in Aspen, received
the first Robert Harth Conducting Award in 2002, when he also made his
debut with the Cleveland Orchestra at the Blossom Music Festival, became
a conducting fellow at Tanglewood, and then served as assistant conductor
of the Cleveland Orchestra from 2003-2006.
Although he has guest conducting assignments coming up in the U.S.
and Europe (and is rumored to have job offers in profusion), Gaffigan is
settling down in San Francisco to stay here for a good while - by intention
and by contract. "Oh, yes," said an Unnamed Symphony Official, "we've
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