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 Los Angeles Opera (since 2006), music director of the Ravinia Festival, summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (since 2005), and music director of America’s oldest choral festival, the Cincinnati May Festival (since 1979), where he has provided the artistic leadership for more May Festivals than any other music director in the festival’s 140-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. He has also appeared 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. In the course of his career, he has conducted more than ninety operas and several hundred symphonic and choral works.

A long-time admirer of English composer Benjamin Britten’s (1913-1976) music and genius, Mr. Conlon is currently engaged in a three-year performance cycle of the composer’s works in the United States and Europe. The homage, which honors the composer’s legacy and the 2013 centenary of his birth, features performances of six different operas including A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Met and The Turn of the Screw, Albert Herring, and Billy Budd at LA Opera; the three church parables Curlew River, The Burning Fiery Furnace, and The Prodigal Son in collaboration with Rome Opera at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli; and choral and orchestral works including Cantata misericordium, Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, War Requiem, and the Violin Concerto, among others. In Los Angeles this season, he is spearheading “Britten 100/LA: A Celebration,” a year-long city-wide festival that features performances, conferences, and exhibitions.

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 Ravinia for championing these works and in 1999 he received the Zemlinsky Prize, for his efforts in bringing that composer’s music to international attention. As music director of Ravinia Festival, Conlon has showcased these composers in the festival’s “Breaking the Silence” series, and in Los Angeles, Conlon initiated the groundbreaking “Recovered Voices” project. 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 is 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 France’s highest distinction from then President of the French Republic Jacques Chirac: the Légion d’Honneur.

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