About Us

James Conlon

James Conlon

Music Director of the
Chicago Symphony Orchestra Residency

American conductor James Conlon began his tenure as music director of Ravinia Festival during the 2005 season of North America’s oldest music festival. He has been a favorite guest conductor at Ravinia, making appearances since 1977. Conlon is only the fourth music director in the festival’s history.

Conlon’s 2013 season at Ravinia includes conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Verdi’s Aida, as well as conducting the CSO with such featured soloists as Maxim Vengerov, Lang Lang, James Ehnes, Leon Fleisher, Alon Goldstein and Gil Shaham. He leads the CSO and vocalists in the festival’s premiere of Britten’s The Burning Fiery Furnace, celebrating the centennial of the composer. Conlon also curates a musical exploration of Britten, Walter Braunfels and Adolph Busch in collaboration with the CSO.

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, Conlon is one of classical music’s most recognized interpreters.

In addition to Ravinia Festival, Conlon is music director of Los Angeles Opera (since 2006), where he has recently extended his contract through 2018. He is also 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) and general music director of the City of Cologne, Germany (1989-2002), where he was music director of the Gürzenich Orchestra-Cologne Philharmonic, Cologne Opera and Rotterdam Philharmonic (1983-1991).

Conlon has conducted more than 260 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, 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 90 operas and several hundred symphonic and choral works.

A longtime admirer of English composer Benjamin Britten’s (1913-1976) music and genius, Conlon is currently engaged in a personal 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 encompassing opera, orchestral and choral works, including spearheading L.A. Opera’s year-long, city-wide “Britten 100/LA: A Celebration” festival and returning to the Metropolitan Opera in October 2013 to conduct A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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. He 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. Conlon has showcased these composers at Ravinia Festival and in Los Angeles, where he initiated the groundbreaking “Recovered Voices” project. 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.

Committed to working with pre-professional musicians, Conlon is actively involved in Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute (RSMI), which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2013, as well as the festival’s REACH*TEACH*PLAY education programs. He has also 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 Conservatory, USC and UCLA, and his pre-concert lectures at L.A. Opera consistently attract capacity crowds. His appearances throughout the country as a speaker on a variety of cultural and educational topics are widely praised.

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 L.A. Opera recording of Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. He holds several honorary doctorates and has received many awards. Conlon is 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 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).

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.