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A mixture of artistic ambience, fabulous food and engaging entertainment made the annual fund-raiser “Fall in Love With Music” a most delightful affair for the League of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association.

The event, held Oct. 28 at the historic Union League Club of Chicago, featured distinguished guests, including Lady Valerie Solti and American conductor James Gaffigan. Guests sampled appetizers and beverages before sitting down to lunch, followed by a musical interlude and a stimulating interview. Co-Chairs Pam Andrews and Marguerite Guido and their committee members deserve kudos for arranging this memorable program.

League President Mimi Duginger welcomed the audience. Then CSOA President Jeff Alexander introduced the special guests: Lady Solti; CSO cellists Kenneth Olsen, Karen Basrak and Brant Taylor, and Gaffigan, who was interviewed by Cristina Rocca, CSO vice president for artistic planning. Lady Solti’s presence at this event was an honor for fellow League members, and her warm interaction with Gaffigan, a winner of the Sir Georg Solti International Conducting Competition in 2004, added to the sense of occasion.

After lunch, a trio of CSO cellists demonstrated their individual and collective musicianship in a program of chamber music. Their eclectic repertoire ranged from Five Renaissance Dances by Brian Joyce, a melodic Schubert piece, a haunting song by the British alt-rock composer Imogen Heap to the theme from HBO series “Game of Thrones.” Whether playing the melody, harmony or bass line, the performers affirmed the expressive power of the music.

Even though the musicians and conductor had a CSO performance that night at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Olsen stayed for the Rocca interview with Gaffigan, a high school friend of his. Both remembered fondly a pick-up rehearsal of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony in a barn at Tanglewood. Although Gaffigan received a college scholarship as a bassoonist, he eventually decide to pursue a conducting career. His reputation as an outstanding young assistant conductor with both the Cleveland and San Francisco orchestras led to his appointment as principal conductor with orchestras in Lucerne, Cologne and the Netherlands.

Numerous engagements as a guest conductor with leading orchestras and opera houses throughout Europe, the United States and Asia demand lots of travel and leave little time for relaxation, Gaffigan told the audience. Studying the score of a new work in his repertoire, such as Schubert’s Stabat mater, always demands his attention between performances. Luckily he is a high-energy person who enjoys conducting both the traditional European orchestras and more adventuresome American counterparts. Like Rocca, he values the international exposure.

League members who missed Maestro Gaffigan’s CSO concerts in late October will have another opportunity to see him this season. He returns to conduct Mozart’s Così fan tutte at Lyric Opera of Chicago, in his house debut, from Feb. 17 to March 16. It will be exciting to follow the career of this talented American conductor as his star continues to rise.

TOP: James Gaffigan is interviewed by Cristina Rocca, CSO vice president for artistic planning, at the “Fall in Love With Music” benefit presented by the League of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association. | ©Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017