James Conlon, internationally recognized as 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, and at many of the world’s leading opera houses including the Metropolitan Opera. Through worldwide touring, an extensive discography and filmography, numerous writings, television appearances, and guest speaking engagements, Conlon is one of classical music’s most recognized and prolific figures.
“I lay all the glory for this performance at the feet of Music Director James Conlon. The LA Opera Orchestra ripped into this score with a ferocity and a technical skill that I have never heard before...”Parterre Box
Conlon is Music Director of the Los Angeles Opera (since 2006) and Artistic Advisor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (since 2021). He was previously Principal Conductor of the RAI National Symphony Orchestra in Torino, Italy (2016–20); Principal Conductor of the Paris Opera (1995–2004); General Music Director of the City of Cologne, Germany (1989–2003), simultaneously leading the Gürzenich Orchestra and the Cologne Opera; and Music Director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (1983–91). Conlon was Music Director of the Ravinia Festival (2005–15), summer home of the Chicago Symphony, and is now Music Director Laureate of the Cincinnati May Festival―the oldest Choral Festival in the United States―where he was Music Director for 37 years (1979–2016), marking one of the longest tenures of any director of an American classical music institution. He has conducted over 270 performances at the Metropolitan Opera since his 1976 debut. He has also conducted at leading opera houses and festivals such as the Wiener Staatsoper, Salzburg Festival, La Scala, Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, Mariinsky Theatre, Covent Garden, Chicago Lyric Opera, Teatro Comunale di Bologna, and Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.
As Music Director of LA Opera, Conlon has led more operas than any other conductor in company history—over 400 performances of more than 60 works. Highlights of his LA Opera tenure include the company’s first Ring cycle; initiating the groundbreaking Recovered Voices series, an ongoing commitment to staging masterpieces of 20th-century European opera suppressed by the Third Reich; spearheading Britten 100/LA, a city-wide celebration honoring the composer’s centennial; and conducting the west coast premiere of The Anonymous Lover by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a prominent Black composer in 18th-century France. This season at LA Opera, he conducts a new production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro directed by filmmaker James Gray featuring costumes by courtier Christian Lacroix, and Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande directed by David McVicar with Susan Graham making her role debut as Geneviève. He also conducts Verdi’s Otello, continuing his multi-season focus on the works of the great Italian composer. To date, Conlon has conducted more than 500 international performances of Verdi’s repertoire.
“Conlon is one of the maestros who should have a regular place in every season and in the most diverse repertory.”Corriere della Sera
In his second season as Artistic Advisor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Conlon conducts three weeks of concerts, beginning with an October 2022 program of music and words featuring Bernstein’s “Kaddish” Symphony with an updated text by Holocaust survivor Samuel Pisa (narrated by his family) paired with Franz Schreker’s Prelude to a Drama—a work that expands on Conlon’s Recovered Voices series honoring composers silenced by the Nazi regime. Conlon returns to the BSO in January 2023 to lead Verdi’s Requiem with guest artists soprano Michelle Bradley, mezzo-soprano Yulia Matochkina, tenor Russell Thomas, and bass Morris Robinson, with the Washington Chorus. The BSO season concludes in June 2023 with a program that reflects a theme that recurs throughout Conlon’s advisorship—the bringing of attention to works by American composers neglected due to their race—including Adolphus Hailstork’s tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., Epitaph for a Man Who Dreamed, Alvin Singleton’s 56 Blows, and Joel Thompson’s To Awaken the Sleeper (a BSO co-commision), with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10.
Additional season highlights include Britten’s Peter Grimes at the Bayerische Staatsoper, his debut performance of Verdi’s Ernani at Opera di Firenze, Tchaikovsky’s complete Nutcracker with the Bern Symphony, and Shostakovich symphonies with the Dallas Symphony, Maggio Musicale Orchestra, Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, and Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionae della RAI. He’ll also return to the Cincinnati May Festival to conduct the world premiere of a new choral work by Julia Adolphe and Mozart’s Requiem with the May Festival Chorus and Cincinnati Symphony.
“[The orchestra] played brilliantly; James Conlon, in the pit, obtained a performance rich in impressionistic atmosphere... unsentimentally potent in effect.”The New Yorker
Conlon is dedicated to bringing composers silenced by the Nazi regime to more widespread attention, often programming this lesser-known repertoire throughout Europe and North America. In 1999 he received the Vienna-based Zemlinsky Prize for his work bringing the composer’s music to a broader audience; in 2013 he was awarded the Roger E. Joseph Prize at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion for his efforts to eradicate racial and religious prejudice and discrimination; and in 2007 he received the Crystal Globe Award from the Anti-Defamation League. His work on behalf of silenced composers led to the creation of The OREL Foundation, an invaluable resource on the topic for music lovers, students, musicians, and scholars; the Ziering-Conlon Initiative for Recovered Voices at the Colburn School; and a recent virtual TEDx Talk titled “Resurrecting Forbidden Music.” This season, Conlon brings his Recovered Voices series to UC Davis, for a residency and concert featuring works by Zemlinsky, Schoenberg, and Korngold.
Conlon is deeply invested in the role of music in civic life and the human experience. At LA Opera, his popular pre-performance talks blend musicology, literary studies, history, and social sciences to discuss the enduring power and relevance of opera and classical music. He also frequently collaborates with universities, museums, and other cultural institutions and works with scholars, practitioners, and community members across disciplines. He frequently appears throughout the country as a speaker on a variety of cultural and educational topics.
“One of America's foremost conductors...”The Washington Post
Conlon’s extensive discography and filmography spans the Bridge, Capriccio, Decca, EMI, Erato, and Sony Classical labels. His recordings of LA Opera productions have received four Grammy® Awards, two respectively for John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles and Kurt Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. Additional highlights include an ECHO Klassik Award-winning recording cycle of operas and orchestral works by Alexander Zemlinsky; a CD/DVD release of works by Viktor Ullmann, which won the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik; and the world-premiere recording of Liszt’s oratorio St. Stanislaus.
Conlon holds four honorary doctorates, was one of the first five recipients of the Opera News Awards, and was distinguished by the New York Public Library as a Library Lion. He was named Commendatore Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana by Sergio Mattarella, President of the Italian Republic. He was also named Commandeur de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture and, in 2002, personally accepted France’s highest honor, the Legion d’Honneur, from then-President of the French Republic Jacques Chirac.