James Conlon Newsletter: Winter 2022

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50th Anniversary of New York Debut

James Conlon post-debut with Maria Callas, February 1972

This month of February marks 50 years since James Conlon made his New York debut conducting The Juilliard School’s 1972 production of Puccini’s La Bohème. Thomas Schippers had been scheduled to lead the production, but he suddenly withdrew and a replacement was needed. Maria Callas, who had been at Juilliard giving master classes, insisted that Mr. Conlon be the one to conduct, as she had been greatly impressed by the 21-year-old conductor in rehearsal. He remembers her as “constantly supportive, totally professional, amazingly compassionate, a total contradiction to the popularized prima-donna image generally associated with her.” They are pictured above following Mr. Conlon’s debut, which was the first time that an undergraduate had conducted a major Juilliard opera production.

It was this performance that set Mr. Conlon’s conducting career in motion. Following his debut, on February 12, 1972 The New York Times wrote, “Mr. Conlon has been born to conduct. His management of the opera was impressive on any terms, youth or no youth. It was a fiery yet well-controlled interpretation that worked with the singers without coddling them. This young conductor has authentic flair, and his kind of authority cannot be taught.”

Los Angeles Opera Announces 2022–23 Season

Music Director James Conlon conducts
The Marriage of Figaro, Pelléas and Mélisande, and Otello

The next LA Opera season at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion has just been announced, with Music Director James Conlon—who recently extended his contract through 2024-25—conducting in three productions: Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, in a new LA Opera co-production with Théâtre des Champs-Elysées; Debussy’s Pelléas and Mélisande, in a new-to-Los Angeles production by David McVicar; and the company’s first staging of Verdi’s Otello since 2008:

February 4–26, 2023: Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro
Cast includes Craig Colclough, Janai Brugger, Lucas Meachem, and Ana María Martínez. Production by James Gray.

March 25 – April 16, 2023: Debussy’s Pelléas and Mélisande
Cast includes Susan Graham, Sydney Mancasola, Will Liverman, Kyle Ketelsen, and Ferruccio Furlanetto. Production by David McVicar.

May 13 – June 4, 2023: Verdi’s Otello
Cast includes Russell Thomas, Rachel Willis-Sørensen, Igor Golovatenko, and Morris Robinson. Production by John Cox.

Mr. Conlon continues to give his wildly popular pre-performance talks before every opera he leads at LA Opera. He also conducts a revival of composer Henry Mollicone and librettist Shishir Kurup’s Moses performed by hundreds of singers and musicians of all ages at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

Reviews from Chicago, Cincinnati, and Los Angeles

James Conlon conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, October 2021

Since opening his season with an acclaimed production of Verdi’s Il Trovatore at LA Opera, James Conlon has continued to garner rave reviews with performances in Chicago, Cincinnati, LA, and beyond.

In October, Mr. Conlon led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a concert dedicated to the memory of Bernard Haitink, who had died just hours prior. In remembrance, he conducted Bach’s Air on the G String in “an effective rendering with an apt atmosphere of somber warmth,” before continuing to the scheduled program that included Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony for Strings in C minor, in which Mr. Conlon “captured the [work]’s bleakness and desolation” (Chicago Classical Review).

He also returned to LA Opera in October for its production of Wagner’s Tannhäuser, a work that had long been absent from the company’s repertory. The Los Angeles Times reviewed Mr. Conlon’s conducting as “better than ever,” while the San Diego Reader praised his direction and the orchestra’s playing as “masterful.” Also, via San Francisco Classical Voice:

“The whole production would fall flat without the orchestra’s brilliance and the stamina of James Conlon, now in his 16th season as music director. What a sound they produced as he artfully articulated the pulsating lines of the score. […] It’s Conlon’s vision that makes the show work on a musico-dramatic level.”

Mr. Conlon’s first performances of the new year were last month with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, to which he brought the little-known Negro Folk Symphony by African-American composer William Levi Dawson (1899–1990). From the Cincinnati Business Courier:

“William Levi Dawson’s “Negro Folk Symphony” is one of the most stunning American works you’ve never heard […] James Conlon and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra took a step to rectify that with a galvanizing performance of this remarkable symphony by an esteemed African American composer. […] It was a busy, vibrant score and a joyous evocation of life. Conlon brought out every detail and led with momentum. […] Conlon, who has conducted this work three previous times, led with a clear feel for the emotion and sweep of the music. The orchestra performed it magnificently.”

Mr. Conlon’s prior performances of the work were with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and Aspen Music Festival Orchestra.

Upcoming in 2022

Highlights of the second half of James Conlon’s season include the following:

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (as Artistic Advisor)

February 10–13 (LIVESTREAMED FEB. 10): Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 and Wagner’s Die Walküre: “Ride of the Valkyries” and Final Scene with Christine Goerke and Greer Grimsley

June 17–19 (LIVESTREAMED JUN. 17): Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 (“Leningrad”), Wynton Marsalis’s Fanfare (BSO co-commission), Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with pianist Beatrice Rana

LA Opera (as Music Director)

March 12–27, April 10, 12, & 23: Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, with choreographer John Neumeier & the Hamburg Ballet and soloists Tamara Wilson, Susan Graham, Ben Bliss, Craig Colclough, and Kristinn Sigmundsson

May 21 – June 12: Verdi’s Aida, with a cast including Latonia Moore, Melody Moore, Russell Thomas, George Gagnidze, and Morris Robinson

…as well as:

Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (February 26): Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, featuring soprano Sarah Blanch, and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466, with Saleem Abboud Ashkar

Paris Opera (April 6): Gala in collaboration with Renée Fleming and Robert Carsen.

Royal Scottish National Orchestra (April 21–23): All-Shostakovich program, comprising Symphony No. 5, the Suite from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and Piano Concerto No. 2 with Simon Trpceski

Hamburg Philharmonic (June 26 & 27): Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9 and Zemlinsky’s Die Seejungfrau

Learn more about James Conlon at JamesConlon.com, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@JamesJConlon).

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