James Gaffigan

Chief Conductor, Luzerner Sinfonieorchester

Principal Guest Conductor, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

Music Director Designate, Verbier Festival Junior Orchestra

© 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.

Regularly conducting at major opera houses around the world, appearances include Metropolitan Opera and Bayerische Staatsoper, Zürich Opera, Vienna Staatsoper, Staatsoper Hamburg, Dutch National Opera, Glyndebourne Festival, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Santa Fe Opera.

James works internationally with many leading orchestras including London Philharmonic, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Deutsches Symphonie-orchester Berlin, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Münchner Philharmoniker, Wiener Symphoniker, Zurich Tonhalle, and Seoul Philharmonic. In North America he has worked with New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra and the symphony orchestras of Chicago, San Francisco, Detroit and Toronto, among others.


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    11 May 19 Debussy San Francisco Symphony
    Davies Symphony Hall

    ”Under his direction, the outlasting Debussy work — La Mer — was magnificent. Fineness and strenuousness balanced beautifully, the instrumental balance itself supporting every gesture. The final effect was like that of a pointillist painting — impressive whether seen from a distance or up close, at the level of a speck.”
    Rebecca Wishnia, San Francisco Classical Voice, 12 May 2019

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    06 Apr 19 Lili & Nadia Boulanger BBC Symphony Orchestra
    Barbican Centre

    ”Here the intertwined duetting of mezzo-soprano Katarina Dalayman and tenor James Way and the blazing tone of the BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra under James Gaffigan combined to create something overwhelmingly rich and grand.”
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Ivan Hewitt, The Telegraph, 29 April 2019

    ”Throughout the night Gaffigan’s energy helped to keep the temperature high.”
    ★ ★ ★ ★ Geoff Brown, The Times, 8 April 2019

    ”Gaffigan conducted passionately, teasing out all sorts of telling details…”
    ★ ★ ★ ★ Timmy Fisher, Bachtrack, 07 April 2019

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    16 Mar 19 Puccini La Fanciulla del West
    Bayerische Staatsoper New Production

    ”James Gaffigan allows the wonderfully tempered orchestra to run, jump and hop and only puts the breaks on their high-spirit in the last possible second, thus providing the necessary emotional urgency to drive this frenzied drama forward in a sparkling and vital fashion.” [TRANSLATION]
    Reinhardt J. Brembeck, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 17 March 2019

    ”Gaffigan succeeds from the beginning to create an unavoidable suction one is unable to escape. Gaffigan lets the reins loose at the right moment without losing his head. […] This is because he doesn’t get bogged down by the details, rather has the courage to let the music flow. In doing so Gaffigan allows the soloists an emotional framework to flourish vocally and dramatically, and we saw a clear example of this in the premier.” [TRANSLATION]
    Marco Frei, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 17 March 2019

    ”James Gaffigan lead the Bayerische Staatsorchester in a strikingly cinematic way, accompanying every transition with luscious colors creating a, one must almost say, sound orgasm.” [TRANSLATION]
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Norman Schwarze, Bachtrack, 18 March 2019

    ”The young music director of the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra has a good feel for a free but controlled tempo. Gaffigan works with the basis of hopelessness and the longing tones that result in „La fanciulla del West“ come off remarkably well without becoming tacky. He also skillfully draws on the tessellated character of the music, which in a moment’s notice transforms lyricism to brutality.” [TRANSLATION]
    ★ ★ ★ ★ Robert Braunmüller, Abendzeitung, 17 March 2019

    ”…Gaffigan’s opulent sound embodiment worked amazing well with Dresden’s dusty grey coal mine setting. Together they created a way to keep Puccinis’ seldom performed opera believable from start to finish and awakened a hope that we could be both hearing and seeing a return of La fanciulla del West more often at the Bayerischen Staatsoper.

    The Bayerische Staatsorchester under the lead of James Gaffigan’s grand gestures performed unparalleled Puccini-sighing, with a great deal of refinement, rhythmical accuracy and courage. Puccini at his best.” [TRANSLATION]
    Martina Kausch, Musik Heute, 16 March 2019

    ”James Gaffigan, originally from New York and the current Chief conductor of the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra successfully succeeded as the musical leader in very convincing plea for Puccinis’ “Fancuilla”” [TRANSLATION]
    Moniker Beer,, 19 March 2019

    ”James Gaffigan made his debut on the podium and conducted the composition, likely unknown to the musicians, with poise and made a great success out of Dresden’s bold new production.” [TRANSLATION]
    Klaus Adam, Schwäbische, 22 March 2019

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    25 Sep 18 Puccini La bohème
    Metropolitan Opera Debut

    ”James Gaffigan led an energetic performance, scrupulously attentive to the singers and not averse to taking risks with the tempo or teasing a little extra juice out of a phrase […], the trust he commanded on stage was palpable.”
    Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, New York Times, 26 September 2018

    ”…the young American conductor James Gaffigan, making his Met debut, brought fresh insights and revelation to Puccini’s complex score. The strings never sounded so delicate, the woodwinds vivacious and intimate. […] He conducted with a keen sense of the overall arc of the score, while providing support to singers as needed. […] It was amazing to experience notes and phrases that I had never heard before.”
    Ako Imamura,, 26 September 2018

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    18 Aug 18 Barber Cleveland Orchestra
    Blossom Festival, Ohio

    “Under Gaffigan’s baton, the work’s dense concentration of thought and emotion was unpacked with impressive assurance, […] From the plaintive pastoral woodwinds that introduce the piece to the overpowering climax, conductor and orchestra played with precision and attention to detail.”
    Mark Satola,, 20 August 2018

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    28 Jul 18 Strauss Ariadne auf Naxos
    Santa Fe Opera debut

    ”Conductor James Gaffigan […] does a fine job of coordinating everything and shaping the orchestral contributions quite expressively.”
    Scott Cantrell, The Dallas Morning News, 2 August 2018

    ”James Gaffigan, a conductor on the rise, deserved serious applause […] He found ways to energize the composer’s long-spanning lines through infusions of color and rhythmic drive.”
    James M. Keller, Santa Fe New Mexican, 29 July 2018

    ”…the evening’s greatest asset may have been James Gaffigan, who led the smallish orchestra of around forty musicians through an intimate, beautifully proportioned performance of the score. The prologue boasted considerable warmth and an understated exuberance that followed the twists of the action without forcing them. Mr Gaffigan’s command of pace and assurance of phrase was equally evident throughout the opera proper…”
    Jesse Simon,, 8 August 2018

    ”…it was a privilege to experience Maestro James Gaffigan conduct the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra.”
    Arya Roshanian,, 10 August 2018

    “Conductor James Gaffigan elicited admirably idiomatic playing from his pit musicians. […], [he] not only crafted soaring ensemble effects with this smallish band, but also drew out the very best solo playing from this talented assemblage…”
    James Sohre,, 3 August 2018

    ”The orchestra under conductor James Gaffigan was outstanding.”
    Peter Alexander,, 5 August 2018

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    24 Jun 18 Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms Lucerne Symphony Asia Tour
    Seoul Arts Centre

    ”As Gaffigan approached the end of the symphony, there was a variety of colours coming out of the orchestra all at one moment. It was so colourful that we could almost visualize the music.” [TRANSLATION]
    Ja-young Moon, Within News, 24 June 2018

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    13 Jun 18 Saint-Saens, Bernstein, Rimsky-Korsakov New Nor
    Central Park, New York

    ”Mr. Gaffigan began earlier with a crisp, dark account of the Bacchanale from Saint-Saëns’s “Samson et Dalila,” then led a feisty performance of Bernstein’s Three Dance Episodes from “On the Town.” After intermission he drew colorful, rhapsodic playing from the orchestra in Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.”
    Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, 14 June 2018

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    02 Apr 18 Barber Lucerne Symphony Orchestra
    Grand Théâtre de Provence

    ” Il faut dire que cette partition est propre à tirer des larmes de la pierre la plus dure ; James Gaffigan le sait bien qui a joué en permanence avec les couleurs des cordes du plus ancien orchestre philharmonique suisse. Une belle entrée en matière.”


    ““The score [of Barber’s Adagio] is capable of pulling tears from even the hardest of stones ; and James Gaffigan is well aware as he creates continuous colours from the strings of the oldest Swiss philharmonic orchestra. A beautiful introduction.”
    Michel Egea, Destimed, 2 April 2018

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    14 Dec 17 REVIEW: BRAHMS Violin Concerto Violin Sonata No 1 CD Listed in 'Top 10 Violin Concertos 2017'

    “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’.

    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 2017

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    30 Nov 17 The Beethoven Project CD Oliver Schnyder, Luzerner Sinfonieorchester
    Sony Classical

    “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

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    02 Nov 17 Copland, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky Dallas Symphony Orchestra
    Meyerson Symphony Center

    “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

    “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

    “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

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    26 Oct 17 Berstein, Barber, Rachmaninov Chicago Symphony Orchestra
    Chicago Symphony Center

    “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

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    06 Oct 16 Prokofiev Chicago Symphony Orchestra
    Chicago Symphony Center

    “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

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    23 Sep 16 Mozart 'Le nozze di Figaro'
    Washington National Opera

    “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

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    12 Dec 15 Beethoven Symphony No. 4 & Andrew Norman 'Split' New York Philharmonic Orchestra
    David Geffen Hall

    “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

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    17 Oct 14 Dvorak Symphony No 6; American Suite Op 98b
    Harmonia Mundi

    “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