James Conlon Tribute

One Extraordinary Life


Festival honors Maestro Conlon’s extraordinary tenure as Music Director


James Conlon, Music Director of the Cincinnati May Festival, announces the programs and artists for the 2016 Cincinnati May Festival, scheduled for May 20-28, 2016, the final May Festival in his extraordinary 37-year tenure as Music Director. Mr. Conlon is the longest-serving artistic leader in May Festival history, and among the longest-tenured music directors of any major classical music institution in the country. The 2016 May Festival pays homage to Mr. Conlon’s unprecedented tenure, with programs that recall artistic milestones and audience favorites from the past four decades. The annual choral festival dates back 143 years, and features the volunteer May Festival Chorus and the acclaimed Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO). After this season, Mr. Conlon will be named May Festival Music Director Laureate and continue to have a presence conducting in Cincinnati both with the May Festival and the CSO.

“As I complete almost four decades as Music Director of the May Festival and working with the Chorus and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, I decided to program a Festival that would invoke some of my fondest memories of Cincinnati,” said Mr. Conlon. “Each selection of this year’s May Festival resonates in a special way with audiences, guest artists and the storied history of the Festival.”

The 2016 May Festival will also be the final Festival (and the final performances by any organization) to take place in Cincinnati’s historic Music Hall prior to its planned renovation. The 2017 May Festival will take place at the Taft Theatre in downtown Cincinnati while Music Hall is under construction, while the 2018 May Festival will be back in a newly-revitalized Music Hall.


"Conlon perfectly captured the emotional sweep of this music, as he led in a seamless arc from beginning to end. His was a heartfelt performance, both reverential yet with moments of dramatic flair that energized the forces."

-- Janelle Gelfand, Cincinnati Enquirer

1979: James Conlon, 29, already a leading symphonic and operatic conductor in America and Europe, opens the season as the new music director of the May Festival.
1982: He programs Mozart’s Requiem for the first time in 100 years of the Festival’s history.
1983: Named Principal Conductor of Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.
1989: Named General Music Director of the city of Cologne.
1995: Named Principal Conductor of Opéra National de Paris.
1996: Named an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government.
1997: Wins the Grand Prix du Disque (France), for EMI recording of Zemlinsky’s The Dwarf.
2000: The May Festival enjoys record attendance; a performance is taped for broadcast on PBS TV stations the following season, marking the Festival’s first national broadcast.
2001: Conducts Britten’s War Requiem at Carnegie Hall after the World Trade Center attacks.
2002: Receives France’s highest distinction from the President of the French Republic, Jacques Chirac—the Légion d’Honneur.
2004: Promoted to Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government.
2004: Conlon and the May Festival’s world premiere recording of Franz Liszt’s St. Stanislaus, released early in 2004 by Telarc, is awarded the 30th International F. Liszt Record Grand Prix by the Liszt Society of Budapest.
2005: Named Music Director of the Ravinia Festival.
2005: Portrait by Muli Tang unveiled at Cincinnati Music Hall.
2006: Named Music Director of Los Angeles Opera.
2009: Wins Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording of Kurt Weill’sRise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny with Los Angeles Opera.
2009: Inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame in Cincinnati.
2013: Receives the Roger E. Joseph Prize from Hebrew Union College (based in New York and Cincinnati) on stage at Music Hall to a standing ovation.
2014: Leads the May Festival Chorus and Cincinnati Symphony in Carnegie Hall, as part of the Spring for Music Festival broadcast live over NPR and New York’s WQXR classical radio.
2015: Named Principal Conductor of the RAI National Symphony Orchestra in Torino, Italy.

An Extraordinary Love

In 1979 the Board of the May Festival sought to propel the May Festival into a new era—one that would build upon past triumphs, push boundaries and raise artistry to new heights. When they took the bold step of entrusting the century-old May Festival to the 29-year-old rising star James Conlon, they could never have foreseen such a brilliant 37-year tenure.

As Music Director, James Conlon opened our eyes and ears to new music, including that of composers whose lives had been forever altered by oppression and tragedy, and shared his unparalleled—and infectious—enthusiasm for opera and the classic choral literature.
We—his grateful audience and adopted city—fondly recall those 37 years, 350 works, 100-plus composers and 144 concerts, and we dedicate this new and final season of excellence, inspiration and joy in his honor.