Biography

James Conlon

James Conlon, one of today’s most versatile and respected conductors, has cultivated a vast symphonic, operatic and choral repertoire.  Since his 1974 debut with the New York Philharmonic, he has conducted virtually every major American and European symphony orchestra. Through worldwide touring, an extensive discography and videography, numerous essays and commentaries, frequent television appearances and guest speaking engagements, Mr. Conlon is one of classical music’s most recognized interpreters.

Mr. Conlon has been music director of Los Angeles Opera since 2006, the Ravinia Festival (summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) since 2005 and the Cincinnati May Festival, America’s oldest choral festival, since 1979. He has provided artistic leadership for more May Festivals than any other music director in the festival’s 142-year history and holds a place among the longest-tenured music directors of any major classical music institution in the United States. He has served as Principal Conductor of the Paris National Opera (1995-2004); General Music Director of the City of Cologne, Germany (1989-2002), where he was Music Director of both the Gürzenich Orchestra-Cologne Philharmonic and the Cologne Opera; and Music Director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic (1983-1991).

Mr. Conlon has conducted more than 270 performances at the Metropolitan Opera since his debut there in 1976, and returns in November 2014 to conduct Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. He has also made appearances at Teatro alla Scala, the Royal Opera at Covent Garden in London, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Teatro del Opera di Roma. Over the course of his career, he has conducted more than ninety operas and several hundred symphonic and choral works.

In North America during the 2014-15 season, he leads the New World Symphony in Mahler’s First Symphony and Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with James Ehnes; Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, the preludes to the first and third act of Wagner’s Lohengrin, and Korngold’s Violin Concerto with Vilde Frang; and the May Festival Chorus and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for the 2015 May Festival. Abroad, he conducts the National Philharmonic of Russia, NDR Sinfonie Orchester, Orchestre de Paris, Orquesta Nacional d’España, Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI, Teatro Real in Madrid, and the Marinsky Theater in St. Petersburg.

At LA Opera, he opens the season with Verdi’s La Traviata and conducts three operas that feature the character Figaro from Pierre-Augstin Caron de Beaumarchais’s plays, in a series called Figaro Unbound: Culture, Power, and Revolution at Play. The operas are John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles, in its West Coast premiere in a new production, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. He also conducts Britten’s Noye’s Fludde, a community opera for families, as part of LA Opera’s Off Grand series. Recent highlights of Mr. Conlon’s eight-year tenure at LA Opera include performing a cycle of operas by Benjamin Britten, ending with Billy Budd in March 2014, in honor of the centenary of the composer’s birth, as part of a personal three-year homage to Britten, during which he conducted Britten’s operas and symphonic and choral works worldwide and spearheaded a city-wide festival called “Britten100/LA: A Celebration.” He also led the company’s first Wagner Ring cycle in 2010, directed a city-wide Wagner festival and initiated the Recovered Voices series—an ongoing multi-year project in which he brings music of composers affected by the Nazi regime to the LA Opera stage.

In an effort to raise awareness of the significance of the lesser-known works of composers silenced by the Nazi regime, Mr. Conlon has devoted himself to extensive programming of this music throughout Europe and North America. Mr. Conlon received the Crystal Globe Award from the Anti-Defamation League in 2007 at the Ravinia Festival for championing these works, and the Zemlinsky Prize in 1999 for his efforts in bringing the composer’s music to international attention. In addition to his Recovered Voices series in Los Angeles, Mr. Conlon has showcased these composers in Ravinia Festival’s Breaking the Silence series as music director of the festival. His work on behalf of suppressed composers has led to the creation of the OREL Foundation (www.orelfoundation.org), an invaluable resource on the topic for music lovers, students, musicians and scholars, and the Ziering-Conlon Initiative for Recovered Voices at the Colburn School.

Committed to working with pre-professional musicians, Mr. Conlon has devoted his time to teaching at The Juilliard School, New World Symphony, Ravinia Festival, Aspen Music Festival and School and Tanglewood Music Center. His coaching sessions and master classes with finalists of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition are documented in a collection of highly acclaimed PBS videos. In Los Angeles he works with students at the Colburn School, USC and UCLA, and his pre-concert lectures at LA Opera consistently attract capacity crowds. His appearances throughout the country as a speaker on a variety of cultural and educational topics are widely praised.

Mr. Conlon’s extensive discography and videography can be found on the EMI, Erato, Capriccio, Decca and Sony Classical labels. He has won two Grammy Awards for Best Classical Album and Best Opera Recording for the LA Opera recording of Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. He holds several Honorary Doctorates and has received many awards. He was among the five initial recipients of the Opera News awards and was honored by The New York Public Library as a “Library Lion.” Mr. Conlon’s other recent honors include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Los Angeles (2010), the Music Institute of Chicago’s Dushkin Award (2009), the Medal of the American Liszt Society (2008) and Italy’s Premio Galileo 2000 Award for his significant contribution to music, art and peace in Florence (2008).

Mr. Conlon was named Commandeur de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture and, in 2002, he received the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest distinction, from then-President of the French Republic, Jacques Chirac.

Photo: Chester Higgins

“James Conlon’s career is the story of brilliant promise fulfilled brilliantly.  Few artists have consolidated early success with the sustained and enduring excellence Conlon has achieved…When Conlon is leading a performance, music and drama never seem to be at odds….All of it is marked with a joyous sense of urgency that bespeaks the prodigy he once was – and a richly satisfying command that reflects the master he has become.”

Opera News
Awards Issue, November 2005