Conlon to celebrate 20 years with the company in his final season as Music Director in 2025/26

(Los Angeles) March 13, 2024 — James Conlon, Music Director of LA Opera since 2006, announced at an organizational board meeting today that the 2025/26 season will be his final season as music director. It will mark both his 20th season in this leadership role and the 40th anniversary of the company. President and CEO Christopher Koelsch, along with the LA Opera board of directors, has named Conlon as Conductor Laureate, a lifetime appointment, in recognition of his distinguished tenure and contribution to LA Opera and the community at large, and in acknowledgment of the mutual intention for Conlon to return to the company as a guest conductor.

“The long, productive relationship that I have shared with LA Opera and the greater Los Angeles community has been a source of enormous professional fulfillment, and I have decided to make the 2025/2026 season my last as music director,” Conlon said. “Twenty years with the company marks an extraordinary personal milestone. I am moving on to a new phase of my professional activities and am grateful to the board and to Christopher for their understanding."

Conlon continued: “I have been a music director with orchestras, opera companies and festivals in Europe and the United States for almost 50 years and am looking forward to launching new projects of great importance to me, both musically and personally.

"As a product of the public education system of New York City, at a time when music was a significant presence for young people, I am passionate about using my voice and influence to encourage and develop a new and growing audience for classical music across generations. I will continue to dedicate myself to those goals through future conducting, writing, public speaking and, most importantly, education and mentorship.

“One of the greatest satisfactions has been working with the musicians of the LA Opera Orchestra. I am deeply grateful to them for their dedication, hard work and support. I am confident that they will be in very good hands with the next generation of leadership.

"I simultaneously express my deepest gratitude to all of those with whom I have collaborated onstage and backstage: the entire chorus, music staff and orchestral library; the audio department, stage management and stage hands; the costume and wig department; all of the administrative staff, volunteers and, in short, all of those whom the public rarely sees but without whom none us would be able to perform at our best. Last and not at all least, my deepest appreciation to Christopher Koelsch, Board Chairman Keith R. Leonard, Jr., Honorary Chairman Marc Stern, Chairman of the Executive Committee Carol F. Henry and the entire board of directors, without whose support and caring Los Angeles would not have the opera company it needs and deserves."

Koelsch, who has worked alongside Conlon at the company since the beginning of his tenure as music director, said, “James’ impact as music director is unparalleled and cannot be overstated. He has been a fierce and passionate advocate for the power and beauty of the art form, dedicating so much of his time to connect directly with audiences and community members, enthusiastically sharing his knowledge with everyone from the most learned opera fan to children who have never been exposed to classical music. He is equally committed to the members of the orchestra and ensuring that, as a group, they are continually developing, expanding and sharpening their collective sound; from my point of view, they have never sounded better as an ensemble. Under his guidance, the LA Opera Orchestra has truly become one of the premiere orchestras in the world.”

“The sustained and remarkable artistic excellence that James has provided LA Opera for almost 20 years has literally made him central to the company’s artistic achievements and growth," said Keith R. Leonard, Jr., chairman of the LA Opera board of directors. "Our commitment to celebrating unsung artists started with his dedication to staging operas by composers silenced during World War II. In addition to his leadership in the orchestra pit, he possesses an unparalleled knowledge, insight and passion for opera history. He has a gift for placing works in historical context and connecting them to current issues and events, which explains the popularity of his pre-show lectures. I personally read everything he writes and love his podcasts.”

Internationally recognized as one of classical music’s most accomplished, versatile, and prolific figures, James Conlon became LA Opera's second music director in 2006. Having conducted 68 operas by 32 different composers and over 460 performances to date with the company, James Conlon has led more productions than any other conductor in LA Opera's history. Highlights of his tenure include the company’s first Ring cycle by Wagner; a 2015 “Figaro Trilogy” consisting of John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro; spearheading Britten 100/LA, a citywide celebration honoring the centennial of composer Benjamin Britten’s birth; and conducting a rare performance of The Anonymous Lover by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a prominent Black composer in 18th-century France.

Conlon additionally launched the groundbreaking Recovered Voices initiative, an ongoing commitment to staging neglected masterpieces by composers suppressed by the Third Reich. In 1999 he received the Vienna-based Zemlinsky Prize for his work bringing composer Alexander Zemlinsky’s music to a broader audience; in 2013 he was awarded the Roger E. Joseph Prize at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion for his efforts to eradicate racial and religious prejudice and discrimination; and in 2007 he received the Crystal Globe Award from the Anti-Defamation League. His work on behalf of silenced composers led to the creation of the OREL Foundation, an invaluable resource on the topic for music lovers, students, musicians and scholars; the Ziering-Conlon Initiative for Recovered Voices at the Colburn School; and a virtual TEDx Talk titled “Resurrecting Forbidden Music.”

Recovered Voices programming is currently represented onstage at LA Opera with a double bill featuring The Dwarf by Alexander Zemlinsky, an opera based on Oscar Wilde’s fable The Birthday of the Infanta, paired with Highway 1, USA by William Grant Still, often called the “dean of African-American composers,” which marks the first time that an LA Opera Recovered Voices presentation has featured a composition by an American composer subjected to racial prejudice and suppression. Conlon is the conductor of both works.

He also collaborates closely with the members of LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, conducting them in concerts and in performances of operas that have included, most recently, Impressions de Pelléas, an adaptation of Claude Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande.

Since coming to Los Angeles, Conlon has demonstrated his deep investment in the role of music in civic life and the human experience. At LA Opera, his enormously popular pre-performance talks have blended musicology, literary studies, history and social sciences to discuss the enduring power and relevance of opera and classical music. He has also frequently collaborates with universities, museums and other cultural institutions and worked with scholars, practitioners and community members across disciplines in his efforts to improve awareness of and accessibility to classical music.

Conlon also initiated the annual Community Opera, a signature and unique program for LA Opera hosted at the Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles. The Community Opera brings together more than 400 amateur singers, dancers and instrumentalists who perform in a fully staged opera alongside LA Opera’s professional singers and with musicians of the LA Opera Orchestra. “When I was 12 years old, I participated in a children’s chorus in an opera and it changed the course of my life,” explained Conlon. “It is important to share the experience of art with young people; it is an experience that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives in ways we can’t even imagine today.” Each Community Opera presentation is performed free to the public, for an audience of around 3,000 people. For 2024, LA Opera will host two performances of Benjamin Britten’s Noah's Flood on May 3 and May 4.

Apart from LA Opera, James Conlon has been Principal Conductor of the Paris Opera (1995-2004); General Music Director of the City of Cologne, Germany (1989-2002), simultaneously leading the Gürzenich Orchestra and the Cologne Opera; Music Director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (1983-91); and Principal Conductor of the RAI Orchestra Nazionale Torino. Conlon was Music Director of the Ravinia Festival (2005-15), summer home of the Chicago Symphony, and is now Music Director Laureate of the Cincinnati May Festival―the oldest choral festival in the United States―where he was Music Director for 37 years (1979-2016), marking one of the longest tenures of any director of an American classical music institution. He also served as Artistic Advisor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (2021-23). He has conducted over 270 performances at the Metropolitan Opera since his 1976 debut there. He has conducted at leading opera houses and festivals worldwide, such as the Vienna State Opera, Salzburg Festival, La Scala in Milan, the Rome Opera, Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Teatro Real in Madrid, Teatro Comunale di Bologna and Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence.

Conlon’s extensive discography and filmography spans the Bridge, Capriccio, Decca, EMI, Erato, RCA and Sony Classical labels. His recordings of LA Opera productions have received four Grammy Awards: two respectively for John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles and for Kurt Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. Additional highlights include an ECHO Klassik Award-winning recording cycle of operas and orchestral works by Alexander Zemlinsky; a CD/DVD release of works by Viktor Ullmann, which won the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik; and the world premiere recording of Liszt’s oratorio St. Stanislaus

Conlon holds four honorary doctorates, was one of the inaugural five recipients of the Opera News Awards and was distinguished by the New York Public Library as a Library Lion. He recently received the Cross of Honor for Science and Art (Österreichische Ehrenkreuz für Wissenschaft und Kunst) from the Republic of Austria in 2023, and was named Commendatore Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana by Sergio Mattarella, President of the Italian Republic in 2016. He was also named Commandeur de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture and, in 2002, personally accepted France’s highest honor, the Legion d’Honneur, from then-President of the French Republic Jacques Chirac.

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