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 the Los Angeles Opera and the Cincinnati May Festival, America’s oldest choral festival. This season he brings to a close a 37-year tenure of the May Festival, one of the longest tenures of any American classical music institutions, and becomes Conductor Laureate. He also takes the post of Principal Conductor of the RAI National Symphony Orchestra in Torino, Italy in 2016. Mr. Conlon has served as Music Director of the Ravinia Festival, summer home of the Chicago Symphony (2006-2015), 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, 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 23 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 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 opens 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 Saint Petersburg.

Mr. Conlon marked his final season as Music Director of the Ravinia Festival in the summer of 2015 with programming that celebrated his 11-year tenure including Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman and works by Zemlinsky, Mahler, Mozart, Shostakovich, and Tchaikovsky; and during the 2015-2016 season he returned to conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Orchestra Hall. His upcoming orchestral engagements include conducting the San Francisco Symphony, Montreal Symphony, National Symphony and New World Symphony in North America, and the RAI National Symphony Orchestra in Italy and on tour in China. Other recent 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 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 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 by Bridge Records in the spring of 2016, include John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles with Los Angeles Opera and the May Festival Chorus and Cincinnati Symphony in Nathaniel Dett’s oratorio, The Ordering of Moses at Carnegie Hall.

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 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