Palau de les Arts: James Gaffigan, the emerging conductor who changed Nirvana for Schubert | Culture

Palau de les Arts: James Gaffigan, the emerging conductor who changed Nirvana for Schubert |  Culture
The conductor James Gaffigan, at the Palau de les Arts in Valencia last week.Monica Torres

There was no tradition in his family. Yes, you listened to Frank Sinatra and other popular singers, you danced, and the music was present, but James Gaffigan never listened to classical music at his home in New York, the city where he was born 42 years ago. The real hobby came later, when he was just 17 years old. He was a fan of Björk, of Rage Against the Machine, of Kurt Cobain, of Nirvana; He also went through a stage of electronic music, like many other teenagers. But everything changed when he discovered Mahler, Puccini, Strauss … “That music offered me something more than pop,” says the new musical director of the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, based at the Palau de les Arts opera . The experience of verifying that in an orchestra everyone “breathes together and goes in the same direction” was decisive in deciding his future: he wanted to dedicate his entire life to classical music.

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Today, James Gaffigan is one of the most prominent symphonic and operatic conductors of the new breed from the USA. He is also musical director of the Symphony Orchestra of the Norwegian city of Trondheim (resides with his family in Oslo) and main guest conductor of the Netherlands Radio Orchestra, among other formations and festivals. An appreciable resume for a still young conductor in the world of classical music who has performed on some of the main stages in the world without forgetting his origins.

“If it weren’t for the New York public schools, I wouldn’t be here. They gave me the training for free to be able to learn music. I am very grateful to the system. When I was a teenager, they also gave me the opportunity to go to concerts and operas, something my parents couldn’t afford, ”he explains, sitting in a spectacular room in the Palau de les Arts, annexed to the rest of the City of Barcelona complex. the Arts and Sciences of Valencia to which it belongs.

Like or not the architecture of Santiago Calatrava, it is difficult to escape its immense sculptural forms. Gaffigan emphasizes the relevance of the continent, but emphasizes above all the importance of content. He assures that he accepted the musical direction proposed to him by the artistic director of the Valencian opera, Jesús Iglesias, when he verified the quality of the orchestra originally founded in 2006 by the sought-after conductor Lorin Maazel. It chose its first musicians at the stroke of the Generalitat’s checkbook, in the years of the media events prior to the outbreak of the great crisis of 2008. It was soon considered one of the best orchestras (if not the best) in Spain in the Cenacles of critics and music lovers. Is there anything left of the imprint of Maazel, who died in 2014?

“That system of creation was not the usual one, which is gradual. It was like a big bang. In a short time the best young musicians got together, which is more typical of festivals. I still feel that strength from then. But it was a party for young people and now the vast majority of musicians are around 45 and mature, they want to improve and work. The talent is there and the level is very high, similar to that of other German or Swiss radio orchestras. Now the international public has to know ”, he says. The new auditions show that the Valencian group is a destination and not an exit ramp for Spanish musicians, as happens in other symphonic and operatic groups in Spain, he adds.

Gaffigan has signed a four-year contract with Les Arts to conduct at least two operas and two symphony concerts per season, with corresponding rehearsals. His landing in Valencia coincided at the beginning of September with the extraordinary celebration (due to the covid-19 pandemic) of the Fallas, which left him a bit stunned as a musician, especially macletades. “I have never heard anything so loud. Every time he thought he couldn’t get taller anymore, yes, he still could. Incredible ”, he points while playing the sound in crescendo of the firecrackers. His personality seems alien to the cliché of the dictator director. “There are still some, but they are out of context. A dictator imposes fear and a leader does not. He listens and the musicians go to him ”, he asserts.

James Gaffigan, in a rehearsal at the Palau de les Arts.
James Gaffigan, in a rehearsal at the Palau de les Arts.Miguel Lorenzo

He is particularly impressed by the emotion of Schubert’s music if he is to enter the “very difficult” game of choosing between his favorite composers: “Schubert moves me to tears. His songs, his SongsThey are like small operas, both dramaturgical and opera ”. And your references in the orchestral conducting? “From an educational point of view, Leonard Bernstein, because he made music known everywhere and at all levels. As a dream, Carlos Kleiber, because he had a fantasy to tell the music that goes beyond any other director, “he says.

Regarding the convulsion that the accusations of sexual abuse against Plácido Domingo, for example, has produced in classical music, the American director regrets everything that happened and also asks for time to analyze each situation, although he is aware that the sign of the times marked by social media requires almost immediate reactions.

To premiere the new season of Les Arts, he will direct on September 30 a version of the Requiem by Mozart, with the stage direction of the Italian Romeo Castellucci, an international figure in the theater, in an expected co-production with the Aix-en-Provence festival, which has been delayed in Valencia due to the pandemic. “It is a very beautiful and exciting production. Very Mediterranean and colorful, with excellent work also by the choir, which dances and acts at the same time as it sings ”, he highlights.

The challenge is to recreate the sound of Mozart with current instruments. Gaffigan seeks a synthesis between the “great precision” of the American orchestras and the “enormous musicality” of the European ones. “The main virtue of a current orchestra must be versatility in the repertoire,” he adds. “It is not necessary to use a German orchestra to listen to Strauss or an American one, for Gershwin. The future is that they have a very good and versatile repertoire ”, adds the director, who wants to break with the corseted protocol of concerts. “You have to change it from top to bottom: everyone is quiet, the director enters, says hello, applause; the director leaves, silence. It’s boring. Let’s talk about the works, let’s recite a poem, let’s play a solo … In a rock concert there are no silences ”, he emphasizes.

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Palau de les Arts: James Gaffigan, the emerging conductor who changed Nirvana for Schubert | Culture