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 is Music Director of LA Opera, the Ravinia Festival (summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) and the Cincinnati May Festival, America’s oldest choral festival, where he has served as Music Director for 36 years-–more than any other music director in the festival’s 143-year history. He will also take the post of Principal Conductor of the RAI National Symphony Orchestra in Torino, Italy in 2016. Mr. Conlon 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. He has also conducted 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.

At LA Opera, where he has served as Music Director since 2006, Mr. Conlon has conducted 52 different operas including 19 company premieres, two U.S. premieres and one world premiere. Highlights of his tenure include conducting the first Ring cycle in Los Angeles, initiating the groundbreaking Recovered Voices series, and spearheading Britten 100/LA, a city-wide celebration honoring the centennial of the composer’s birth. His pre-concert lectures at LA Opera consistently attract capacity crowds. This season at LA Opera, Mr. Conlon conducts Jake Heggie’s Moby Dick, Bellini’s Norma, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. He also leads Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina at the Wiener Staatsoper and Verdi’s Luisa Miller at Teatro Real.

Mr. Conlon marks his final season as Music Director of the Ravinia Festival in the summer of 2015 with programming that celebrates his 11-year tenure including Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, Zemlinsky’s The Mermaid and works by Mahler, Mozart and Shostakovich. In the 2015-2016 season he returns to conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Orchestra Hall, as well as the San Francisco Symphony. In Europe he leads the Deutsche Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin, RAI National Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, and the National Philharmonic of Russia.

In an effort to raise awareness of the significance of the lesser-known works of composers silenced by the Nazi regime, Conlon has devoted himself to extensive programming of this music throughout Europe and North America. In 2013 he was awarded the Roger E. Joseph Prize at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion for his extraordinary efforts to eradicate racial and religious prejudice and discrimination, in 2007 he received the Crystal Globe Award from the Anti-Defamation League, and in 1999 he received the Zemlinsky Prize for his efforts in bringing that composer’s music to international attention. His work on behalf of suppressed composers led to the creation of The OREL Foundation, 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. 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 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 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