Gaffigan conducts Franck, Vine/Mulcahy and Prokofiev Review- the CSO performs a hallucinatory world premiere

On October 6th, 7th, and 8th, American conductor James Gaffigan, Chief Conductor, Lucerne Symphony Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a diverse program, showcasing the world premiere of Australian Carl Vine’s “Five Hallucinations for Trombone and Orchestra”, featuring renowned CSO trombonist Michael Mulcahy in a virtuoso performance.

Conductor James Gaffigan leads the CSO

The wide-ranging concert opened with Cesar Franck'sLe Chasseur Maudit”, or “The Accursed Huntsman”, 1882, an aural spectacle of great emotion and energy, filled with horns, demons and bells. The whole is exciting, amazingly evocative; the hunt section has enormous pace and momentum. A clamorous and dramatic finale ends the action, under the deft and energetic baton of Gaffigan, who led the CSO in a sure and strong rendition.

CSO trombonist Michael Mulcahy and Conductor James Gaffigan

 Next came the Vine-Mulcahy debut, a co-commission with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. The piece was inspired by the works of world-renowned nuerologist Oliver Sacks, who died last year and whose most famous book is probably “The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat", 1985, a compilation of tales of persons afflicted by extremely unusual symptoms and syndromes, which have fundamentally altered our understanding of brain function. Vine has been quoted as saying “If I had my life over, I would have studied nuerology”. Vine says he has been deeply influenced by Sacks’ book, “Musicophilia, Tales of Music and the Brain”, 2007, an exploration of the irresistible, haunting and unforgettable powers of music "through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and everyday people."

CSO trombonist Michael Mulcahy with the CSO

In early 2000, the CSO offered their beloved trombonist, the Australian-born Mulcahy, the choice of a commissioned work for trombone and orchestra from any composer- in 2013 he chose Carl Vine. After Riccardo Muti approved the commission and the contract was signed, Vine  has said he reread Sacks’ book “Hallucinations”, 2012. Therafter, he began to choose selections from these auditory/visual/multi-sensory fantastic illusions upon which to compose his work. The 5 he selected for the concerto are “I smell the unicorn”, “The lemonade speaks”, “Mama wants some cookies”, “The doppelganger” and “Hexagons in pink”. Composer and performer worked together to refine the concept, which was, according to Mulcahy, “something dramatic and lyrical”.

CSO trombonist Michael Mulcahy

The results justified the wait and the efforts- each segment was unusual and special and Mulcahy appeared transported as he performed. The 5 segments run the gamut from disturbing atonality to repeated refrains; from a trombone-tuba mini-duet to complex repetitions echoed by the orchestra; from unearthly atonal intonations to lighthearted whimsy. Not all hallucinations are nightmares- these were delivered by a dream of a trombone player, certain and eloquent- accompanied by one of the world's great orchestras-and the piece came to a triumphant conclusion.

Composer Carl Vine with CSO trombonist Michael Mulch and the CSO

After the intermission, 14 excerpts from Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet “Cinderella”, opus 87, which premiered in 1945, comprised the second half of the program. One of his “most popular and melodious” works, it is known for it’s “jubilant” music. Indeed, the score for each segment wonderfully summons from the imagination the scene it was written to depict. One can almost see the “Grand Waltz”, “Cinderella’s Arrival at the Ball” or “The Duet of The Prince and Cinderella”. Gaffigan’s articulation certainly brought out the bright and lively playfulness of the music. Each note sounded clear, even in the moodier segments, such as “The Sister’s New Clothes” and “Midnight”. There is a wide range of dynamics here, and the CSO paid tribute to them all.

Composer Carl Vine, CSO trombonist Michael Mulcahy and Conductor James Gaffigan


For more information on the upcoming season of the great CSO, it’s side series and special programs, and to purchase tickets, go to


All photos courtesy of Todd Rosenberg


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