Category: Nardine Saad

Music review: James Gaffigan's Los Angeles Philharmonic debut

March 31, 2012 |  2:45 pm

Mark Swed reviews the Los Angeles Philharmonic debut of James Gaffigan, the latest impressive young conductor on a career fast-track to drop by Walt Disney Concert Hall
For gifted young conductors, who are all but ubiquitous these days, 30 is the new 50. The latest to drop by Walt Disney Concert Hall to make a spirited debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic was 33-year-old James Gaffigan.

Friday's program book noted that this past summer Gaffigan, a former associate conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, became music director of the Lucerne Symphony and principal guest conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, two fine stopping-off posts for a young conductor on a career fast-track. But he's faster than that. On Tuesday, the Gürzenich Orchestra in Cologne appointed Gaffigan as its principal guest conductor. One of Germany’s most important orchestras, it was once headed by another New Yorker, James Conlon.

Gaffigan is not unlike a young Conlon. His conducting style is direct and communicative. He likes to whip up excitement, and he does it well. He seems attracted to agreeable corners of the 20th century -– he began the program with Respighi's irresistible "Trittico Botticelliano" (Botticelli Triptych), which the L.A. Phil had somehow resisted until now. Gaffigan followed that with an L.A. Phil favorite, the suite from Bartók's "The Miraculous Mandarin." After intermission came a universal favorite -- Grieg's Piano Concerto with André Watts as soloist.

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TSA Chorus checks in at LAX with holiday spirit, music

December 20, 2011 |  5:57 pm

Transportation Security Administration officers at Los Angeles International Airport aren't just busy checking baggage and enforcing the 3-ounce liquid limit this year — they're putting on a show.

The blue-shirted airport officers are upping the holiday spirit at LAX by caroling for passengers and employees in the American Airlines and Tom Bradley terminals this week. Talk about flying friendly skies.

"It's a way for the TSA to put on a public face," said Raul Matute, director of the LAX TSA Chorus. "Yes, we're going to tell you to remove your shoes, but we're going to make a song out of it."

Matute, a TSA manager when he isn't playing the keyboards or directing the chorus, started the 18-person group in 2003. He's enjoying his third consecutive year leading the ensemble's holiday program at LAX. The volunteers usually perform motivational and patriotic fare on Veterans Day, Memorial Day, July 4 and Sept. 11, but during the holidays it's time to get into the Christmas spirit.

"Spontaneously, when we were playing, soldiers and employees would start dancing. The public loved it," he said, welcoming the positive attitude toward the airport stalwart that has come under fire for its pat-downs and last year's full-body scanner controversy.

Most members of the volunteer-based group have some sort of musical background, are choir directors at their churches or have studied music in school.

Harried passengers bustling through the terminals can listen in on the performances or sing along to the chorus' motivational music and Christmas medley during 45-minute sets on Tuesday and Thursday, which will be played over the group's own PA system. The singers are decked out in their regular TSA uniforms, but red Santa hats and candy cane brooches have made appearances for the occasion. 

And who'll be checking those bags during showtime?

"There's 2,000 employees at LAX. Someone will cover scanners," Matute, 60, said.

Even though the group's signature piece is Ray Charles' "America the Beautiful," Matute said he looks forward to singing "Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel," a song with lyrics about the birth of Jesus Christ.

"We don't do 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' because it's a government chorus, and we try to keep church and state out of it," said Matute. "But I'm pushing the envelope a little bit with that one," he laughed. "It's Christmas."


The 12 movies of Christmas

The Calendar Gift Guide: Something for all

Twelve Days of Christmas Flash Mobs: I'll be home for Christmas

— Nardine Saad


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