Acclaim from Spain
With orchestras gradually returning to the stage these past several months, James Conlon has been in demand in both the U.S. and Europe, including in Madrid for the 2021 ¡SOLO MÚSICA! marathon, presented every two years around World Music Day (June 21). The biennial brings Spain’s leading orchestras together to perform music centered on a particular theme. This year’s marathon, entitled “Duelo Romántico,” featured Mr. Conlon conducting the complete Schumann and Brahms symphonies in the span of a weekend with four different Spanish orchestras—the Orquesta Nacional de España (Madrid), Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia, Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León, and Joven Orquesta Nacional de España—at Madrid’s Auditorio Nacional de Música. He subsequently conducted the Joven Orquesta Nacional de España in two additional concerts: first at the Alhambra as part of the Festival de Granada, then at Seville’s Teatro de la Maestranza.
Critical acclaim from Spain included the following:
- “James Conlon is a conductor with a firm grasp on his craft, honed by the ‘old-school’ style in the opera house, and has built a long and prolific career that encompasses both the operatic and symphonic traditions. Through his clear, efficient movements, he brings symphonic structures to life; he connects well with orchestras, who seem to appreciate him more and more the longer that they work with him; and his interpretations have a certain ‘rightness’ and good doses of vitality, intensity, and energy. The American conductor is one of those who does not try to reinvent the wheel… nor be novel for novelty’s sake, but rather he lets the music speak to the audience on its own terms, which is how it speaks to Conlon himself.” (Scherzo)
- “James Conlon provided the Joven Orquesta Nacional de España with a great lesson in symphonic music… Conlon carried himself like a true maestro in every one of his precise movements, in his conviction, without the slightest equivocation. Conlon is one of those maestros who, in the moments of highest orchestral tension, chooses stillness and small gestures, a way of keeping calm control. He clearly does his preparation, and the results are very, very good.” (Ritmo)
- “Conlon bet on rigor, controlling the orchestra’s youthful energy with exactly the right degree of control. Faced with complex passages, he found inspired teamwork and smooth, seamless orchestral performance.” (Platea Magazine)
- “Conlon is one of the most versatile U.S. musicians of his generation… He commits himself rigorously to the interpretation of the work’s counterpoints… The andante was marked by distinguished nobility. Its poetry flowed with a deeply felt cadence… the string section put on one of the concert’s best moments, achieving a beautiful, distinguished canto.” (Codalario)
Additional summer engagements for Mr. Conlon include the Aspen, Napa Valley, Ravello, and Ravinia Festivals. In Aspen, where he has been active throughout his career, Mr. Conlon conducts two works by Black American composers: William Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony—a work largely neglected since its premiere conducted by Leopold Stokowski with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1934—and Alvin Singleton’s 56 Blows (quis Custodiet Custodes?)—presented during the composer’s 80th birthday year. Mr. Conlon is also joined by Yefim Bronfman in Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto.
In his debut at Napa Valley, Mr. Conlon conducts an operatic gala with Michael Fabiano. An all-Mozart program follows with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival, where Mr. Conlon was Music Director from 2005 to 2015. He then conducts the Cherubini Youth Orchestra in an evening of Beethoven in Ravello.
First Season as Artistic Advisor of
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
In November 2020, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra announced the appointment of James Conlon as the orchestra’s Artistic Advisor, effective September 2021. This three-year appointment was made to ensure the continued artistic excellence of the orchestra as it conducts its search for the BSO’s next Music Director.
Mr. Conlon’s first season as Artistic Advisor includes three weeks of concerts, starting with an October 2021 program of music by historically marginalized composers. The featured works are Alexander Zemlinsky’s Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid), which is the piece that sparked Mr. Conlon’s interest in suppressed music from the early 20th century, and William Levi Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony, which reflects a theme that will recur throughout Mr. Conlon’s advisorship—the bringing of attention to works by American composers neglected due to their race. He returns in February 2022 for performances including Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony and the final scene of Wagner’s Die Walküre, with guest artists Christine Goerke and Greer Grimsley. The BSO season concludes in June 2022 with Mr. Conlon conducting an orchestra co-commission from Wynton Marsalis, Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with Beatrice Rana, and Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony (“Leningrad”).
LA Opera’s 2021–22 Season
The LA Opera season at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is back, with Music Director James Conlon conducting three operas long absent from the company’s repertory: Verdi’s Il Trovatore, which opens the season; Wagner’s Tannhäuser; and Verdi’s Aida, as well as Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in collaboration with the Hamburg Ballet choreographed by John Neumeier:
- September 18 – October 10: Verdi’s Il Trovatore
Cast includes Guanqun Yu, Limmie Pulliam, Gregory Kunde, Raehann Bryce-Davis, Vladimir Stoyanov, and Morris Robinson. Directed by Francisco Negrin.
- October 16 – November 6: Wagner’s Tannhäuser
Cast includes Issachah Savage, Sara Jakubiak, Yulia Matochkina, Lucas Meachem, Morris Robinson, Philip Cokorinos, and Patrick Blackwell. Directed by Louisa Muller (an original LA Opera production by Ian Judge).
- March 12 – 27: Bach’s St. Matthew Passion
Choreographed by John Neumeier with the dancers from Hamburg Ballet. Cast includes Joshua Blue, Michael Sumuel, Tamara Wilson, Susan Graham, Ben Bliss, and Craig Colclough.
- May 21 – June 12: Verdi’s Aida
Cast includes Latonia Moore, Russell Thomas, Melody Moore, George Gagnidze, and Morris Robinson. Directed by Francesca Zambello.
Since the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020, Mr. Conlon and LA Opera have been working diligently towards the eventual return of the company’s annual opera season at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
During the shutdown, Mr. Conlon was involved in a variety of virtual initiatives with LA Opera, including the recording of more than twenty podcasts, which are still available with related articles via Conlon’s Corner at laopera.org. In November 2020, LA Opera presented a Conlon-led virtual production of The Anonymous Lover by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a prominent Black composer in 18th-century France. Livestreamed from The Colburn School as an online-only event, the performance marked the work’s West Coast premiere and was widely acclaimed, with Mr. Conlon’s orchestra delivering a performance that was “lush, vigorous” (Observer) and “fully alive” (Financial Times).
The Pavilion reopened in June 2021 with Mr. Conlon conducting the company premiere of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex, with which LA Opera became the first major American opera company to perform live in its own theater since the COVID-19-related shutdown. Praised as “wonderful … a feast of the raw, powerful, emotional singing that opera lovers hunger for” (Los Angeles Times), the performance featured Russell Thomas, J’Nai Bridges, John Relyea, Morris Robinson, and Robert Stahley, with narration by Stephen Fry. Mr. Conlon’s chorus and orchestra “delivered unremitting intensity from the first bars to the last” (The New Yorker). LA Opera’s Oedipus Rex is available for online viewing through July 18.
Centro Nacional de Difusión Musical
Dan Steinberg | LA Opera