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 the Los Angeles Opera and Principal Conductor of the RAI National Symphony Orchestra in Torino, Italy, where he is the first American to hold the position in the orchestra’s 84-year history. He served as Music Director of the Cincinnati May Festival for 37 years (1979–2016) holding one of the longest tenures of any director of an American classical music institution, and is now Conductor Laureate. Mr. Conlon has also served as Music Director of the Ravinia Festival, summer home of the Chicago Symphony (2006–15); 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 and the Cologne Opera; and Music Director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic (1983–91). He has conducted more than 270 performances at the Metropolitan Opera since his debut there in 1976. He has also conducted at Teatro alla Scala, Wiener Staatsoper, Mariinsky Theatre, Royal Opera at Covent Garden in London, Teatro del Opera di Roma, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, and Lyric Opera of Chicago.

At the Los Angeles Opera, where he has been Music Director since 2006, Mr. Conlon has conducted 48 different operas including 24 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 citywide celebration honoring the centennial of the composer’s birth. His pre-concert lectures at the Los Angeles Opera consistently attract capacity crowds. During the coming season at the Los Angeles Opera, Mr. Conlon conducts Verdi’s Macbeth, Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, Strauss’s Salome and Puccini’s Tosca. This summer he opened the Italian Spoleto Festival with The Marriage of Figaro, the second opera of a three year Mozart-Da Ponte Trilogy and returns to conduct the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra in St. Petersburg.

His orchestral engagements in the 2016–17 season include conducting the RAI National Symphony Orchestra in Italy and on tour in China in his first season as Music Director, and the Montreal Symphony, National Symphony and New World Symphony in North America, and the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra in Britten’s Requiem in Europe. Other European engagements have included leading the Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Orchestre National de France and the New Year’s concert for live television in Venice’s Teatro La Fenice.

In an effort to call attention to 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 Bridge, Capriccio, Decca, EMI, Erato and Sony Classical labels. He has won two Grammy Awards for Best Classical Album and Best Opera Recording for the Los Angeles Opera recording of Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.  His latest recordings, released in the spring of 2016, include John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles with Los Angeles Opera on Pentatone and the May Festival Chorus and Cincinnati Symphony in Nathaniel Dett’s oratorio The Ordering of Moses at Carnegie Hall on Bridge Records.

Mr. Conlon was among the five initial recipients of the Opera News awards and was honored by The New York Public Library as a “Library Lion.” His other honors include the Sachs Fund Prize‬ from The ArtsWave Organization for his artistic achievements and outstanding contribution to the cultural life of Cincinnati (2016), 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). He holds three honorary doctorates. 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