James Conlon Spring 2014 Newsletter: ‘Billy Budd ’,Cincinnati May Festival at Carnegie Hall, upcoming April concert dates, ‘Jonah and the Whale’, and the ‘Die Gezeichneten’ recording

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Celebrating 100: James Conlon conducts his 100th opera, Billy Budd, for Britten 100/LA

Music Director James Conlon reached two significant milestones with the LA Opera production of Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd this spring. As the 100th opera that Mr. Conlon has conducted in his career, Billy Budd also marked the finale of Britten 100/LA: A Celebration, a year-long, city-wide festival spearheaded by Mr. Conlon that observed the 2013 centenary of the composer’s birth with performances, conferences, and exhibitions.

“Conlon ends Britten’s first centennial with a performance of his greatest opera that will be hard to surpass,” reviewed Southern California Public Radio KPCC. The Los Angeles Daily News called his performance “exceedingly powerful, diverse in its orchestral coloration and dramatically evocative,” while the Los Angeles Times said that Mr. Conlon “conducts with unerring conviction” as “the force behind LA’s Britten celebrations.”

Although the Britten 100/LA began in 2013, Mr. Conlon’s dedication to Britten and his legacy reaches further back. For the past three years, he has led a performance cycle of many Britten works—including five other operas (Albert HerringNoye’s FluddeRape of Lucretia, The Turn of the Screw in Los Angeles, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Met Opera), three church parables (The Burning Fiery FurnaceCurlew River, and The Prodigal Son), and sundry orchestral and choral works (including Cantata misericordiumSerenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, War Requiem, and the Violin Concerto)—across the US and Europe.



James Conlon conducts the world premiere of Jonah and the Whale, presented by LA Opera on March 21 and 22

James Conlon leads the first-ever performances of Jonah and the Whale, a new opera by American composer Jack Perla and librettist Velina Hasu Houston based on the familiar Old Testament tale, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on March 21 and 22 (tomorrow and Saturday) at 7:30 p.m. as part of LA Opera’s Off Grand series.  

Mr. Conlon spearheaded LA Opera’s commissioning of Jonah and the Whale to serve as a worthy successor to Britten’s Noye’s Fludde. Both operas are written in such a way as to combine professional and amateur performers. The LA Opera Off Grand series, dedicated to presenting free performances for families and bringing together musicians from LA Opera and the community, was one of James Conlon’s first initiatives after becoming Music Director of LA Opera in 2006. The annual productions have included performances of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde (2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013), Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus (2008), and Handel’s The Festival Play of Daniel (2010 and 2012).

Jonah and the Whale features tenor Matthew O’Neill as Jonah, with additional lead singers from LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program and a chorus made up of singers from Los Angeles-area schools, churches, and choirs, performing with an orchestra that combines members of the LA Opera Orchestra with talented student and community musicians. For more information on Jonah and the Whale, visit www.laopera.org/Jonah.



In his 35th season as Music Director of the Cincinnati May Festival, James Conlon takes May Fest performers to Carnegie Hall for Spring for Music 2014

On Friday, May 9 at 7:30 p.m., Cincinnati May Festival Music Director James Conlon conducts the May Festival Chorus and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in the fourth and final installment of the Spring for Music festival at Carnegie Hall. Their Carnegie Hall program includes John Adams’ Harmonium and the New York premiere of R. Nathaniel Dett’s The Ordering of Moses, featuring soprano Latonia Moore, mezzo-soprano Ronnita Nicole Miller, tenor Rodrick Dixon, and bass Donnie Ray Albert as soloists.

The Ordering of Moses is an oratorio that weaves the story of Moses leading the Jews to freedom with African-American spirituals and was one of Dett’s most praised choral works. It received its world premiere at the Cincinnati May Festival on May 7, 1937, performed by a chorus of 350 and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eugene Goosens. The premiere performance was broadcast live nationwide via NBC radio in what is likely the first network classical music broadcast of a major work by a black composer, but only three-quarters of the work was heard. Near the end of the broadcast the announcer abruptly interrupts the music due to previous commitments, however it has been suggested that the program ended due to objections of the work because of Dett’s heritage. Despite the obstacles and limited options of the time, Dett became one of the most successful black composers, known for combining folk songs and spirituals with music of the European Romantic style.

Mr. Conlon opens the 2014 May Festival in Cincinnati on Wednesday, May 7, also with Harmonium and The Ordering of Moses, celebrating the 35th anniversary of his appointment as Cincinnati May Festival Music Director. Following the Carnegie Hall concert, he returns to Cincinnati to lead the May Festival Chorus, Nashville Symphony Chorus, May Festival Youth Chorus, and Cincinnati Children’s Choir in three more May Festival concerts with the Cincinnati Symphony through Sunday, May 18. For these concerts, he will conduct Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, “Symphony of a Thousand” and two performances of Tchaikovsky’s Ode to Joy Cantata and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, “Choral”.



Upcoming April concert dates with the LA Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, and Montreal Symphony Orchestra

James Conlon will make guest appearances with four major orchestras next month—the Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, and Montreal Symphony Orchestra—conducting works by Brahms, Mozart, Shostakovich, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, and three composers frequently featured in Mr. Conlon’s Recovered Voices programs: Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Erwin Schulhoff, and Alexander Zemlinsky, a composer whom Mr. Conlon has championed for nearly two decades.

Mr. Conlon leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in four performances of Schulhoff’s Scherzo from his Fifth Symphony and Brahms’ First Symphony, with pianist Garrick Ohlsson joining to play Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21. The first performance, presented by the Palm Springs Friends of Philharmonic, takes place at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert on Wednesday, April 2 at 5 p.m. The other performances take place at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 3 at 8 p.m., Friday, April 4 at 11 a.m., and Saturday, April 5 at 2 p.m.

The following weekend, Mr. Conlon travels to the opposite coast to conduct the National Symphony Orchestra in the U.S. premiere of a new critical edition of Zemlinsky’s Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid); Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 featuring Gil Shaham; and Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a. Performances take place at The Kennedy Center on Thursday, April 10 at 8 p.m., Friday, April 11 at 8 p.m., and Saturday, April 12 at 8 p.m.

Mr. Conlon returns to California as guest conductor for the San Francisco Symphony on Thursday, April 24 at 2 p.m., Friday, April 25 at 8 p.m., and Saturday, April 26 at 8 p.m. at Davies Symphony Hall. On the program are Schulhoff’s Scherzo from his Fifth Symphony, Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto with Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and Tchaikovsky’s sixth and last symphony, the “Pathétique”.

On April 30 and May 1, Mr. Conlon conducts the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) in two different programs. The first program features violinist Midori and includes Zemlinsky’s Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid), Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, and Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a. Performances of this program take place at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 30 and Thursday, May 1. The second program features OSM principal flute Timothy Hutchins in Mozart’s Flute Concerto No. 1, K. 313 and also includes Zemlinsky’s Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid). This performance takes place on Thursday, May 1 at 10:30 a.m.



Die Gezeichneten receives the Clé du Mois award from Res Musica

LA Opera’s recording of Franz Schreker’s haunting 1915 masterpiece Die Gezeichneten (The Stigmatized) led by James Conlon, received the Clé du Mois award from Res Musica in February. The recording was released by Bridge Records in November 2013, and the opera was recorded live when LA Opera presented the US premiere of the work in 2010 as part of its Recovered Voices series, dedicated to reviving operas by composers who were suppressed by the Nazi regime.

Calling Die Gezeichneten “one of the most gripping, engaging CDs of this new year,” Res Musica said, “The music, often sumptuous, luxurious, wonderfully complex, layered, mongrelized with the stench of Wagner, Strauss, and Debussy, and the orchestra, flamboyant, white hot, expressionist and sensual, directed by James Conlon, in turn rigorous and unpretentious, then opulent, a long-time ardent defender of this post-Romantic repertoire—go straight to the heart, create emotion, excitement, wonder.”

The Guardian said that “James Conlon understands this musical world of decaying romanticism perfectly, and lets the LA Opera Orchestra revel in its luxuriance,” while NPR stated that James Conlon “conducts the opera as if he’d written it,” and Southern California Public Radio KPCC called Die Gezeichneten “one of the proudest accomplishments in the 28-year history of the Los Angeles Opera.”

Die Gezeichneten is available for purchase on Amazon.com and iTunes.


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