Conductor James Gaffigan is committed to new music. He estimates that he is involved with some kind of debut at least every other month and enjoys being “a part of something coming to life, especially when there is a soloist involved, because often these pieces are written for that person, and you can see changes that happen along the way.”
When Carl Vine’s Five Hallucinations for Trombone and Orchestra, written for the CSO’s Michael Mulcahy, received its world premiere in October 2016, Gaffigan was on the podium.
Gaffigan also worked with Wynton Marsalis on his Concerto in D (for Violin and Orchestra), which received its world premiere in November 2016 with the London Symphony Orchestra and soloist Nicola Benedetti. Gaffigan helped the composer make a few changes to the piece. (The work, a co-commission of the Ravinia Festival, had its U.S. premiere in July 2017, with conductor Cristian Măcelaru leading the CSO.) “It’s exciting to me that it’s a process,” Gaffigan said. “It’s not just: Here is my piece, perform it and then go home.”
This season, he will lead the CSO in the U.S. premiere of Avner Dorman’s concerto Eternal Rhythm on Oct. 3-5, with Cynthia Yeh, principal percussion, as soloist.
What he notices first with any composer, Gaffigan said, is whether he or she possesses a distinctive musical language. “With the Vine [Trombone Concerto], it’s clear that it’s really well-crafted, and it’s not thankless. Many pieces I’ve done, there is so much work for the orchestra musicians to do, and in the end, nobody really realizes it. Whereas, with something like Tom Adès, you put in the work, and you get a great result. You get something extremely special. I think this piece is very realistic with the orchestration and how much time we have to put it together.”
A version of this article appeared previously on Sounds and Stories.