James Conlon

Music Director Laureate


Music Director Laureate 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.

As Music Director Laureate of the Cincinnati May Festival, Mr. Conlon 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 country.

Mr. Conlon is also music director of Los Angeles Opera and music director of the Ravinia Festival, summer home to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. 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 260 performances at The Metropolitan Opera since his debut in 1976. He has also appeared at Teatro alla Scala, the Royal Opera at Covent Garden in London, Lyric Opera of Chicago, 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.

Highlights in the recent past include his leading a complete Mahler Symphonies cycle with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the first production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in Los Angeles. A long-time admirer of English composer Benjamin Britten’s music and genius, Mr. Conlon is currently engaged in a personal three-year performance cycle of the composer’s works. The homage, which honors the composer’s legacy and the 2013 centenary of his birth, features six different Britten operas, as well as symphonic and choral works performed in the U.S. and Europe.

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 the Ravinia Festival, Mr. Conlon has showcased these composers in the festival’s “Breaking the Silence” series, and in Los Angeles Mr. Conlon 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, Mr. Conlon has devoted his time to teaching at The Juilliard School, the New World Symphony, the Aspen Music Festival and School, Tanglewood Music Center and Ravinia’s Steans Institute for Young artists. In Los Angeles he works with students at The Colburn Conservatory, USC and UCLA, and his pre-concert lectures at Los Angeles Opera consistently attract capacity crowds. His appearances throughout the country as a speaker on a variety of cultural and educational topics are widely praised.

He has recorded for EMI, Erato, Capriccio, Decca and Sony Classical labels. He has won two Grammy Awards.

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.