James Conlon In-depth Biography
Conductor James Conlon} is equally esteemed in the concert hall and the operatic orchestra pit. He did not come from a musical family, though he recalls that one of his grandfathers played violin. His first important exposure to classical music came when his mother took him and his brothers to see an amateur production of Verdi}'s opera} La Traviata}. James} was reluctant, but the experience changed his life. He went to the opera three times in two months and was "sold on music for life."
He decided to become a conductor and asked his parents for piano and violin lessons. He was admitted to New York City's famous High School of Music and Art (scene of the movie and television series "Fame"). After graduation in 1968, he began studies at the Juilliard School of Music.
While there, legendary soprano Maria Callas} (then giving her famous master classes at Juilliard), recommended him as a conductor. He was engaged to conduct Mussorgsky}'s Boris Godunov} at the Spoleto Festival} in Italy in 1971, his professional debut. He conducted La Bohème} at the Juilliard School, on Callas}' recommendation, in 1972, his New York debut. In 1974, Pierre Boulez}, music director of the New York Philharmonic}, invited Conlon} to conduct a series of concerts of the Philharmonic}, making Conlon} the youngest maestro to do so. He debuted at the Metropolitan Opera} in 1976.
He has guest conducted at nearly every major U.S. orchestra and at several American opera houses. He has performed at the Metropolitan Opera} more than 200 times, in the widest span of repertory}, including Britten}'s Peter Grimes} and Shostakovich}'s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District}.
He conducted the Royal Opera, Covent Garden} for the first time in 1979 in Verdi}'s Don Carlos}. In the same year, he was appointed music director of the Cincinnati May Festival}, the oldest choral festival in the United States. He first conducted the Paris Opéra} in 1982, in a double bill of I Pagliacci} and Puccini}'s Il tabarro}.
He became music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic} in 1983, remaining there until 1991. He continued to guest conduct widely, appearing with the London Symphony}, the Berlin Philharmonic}, the London Symphony}, the Orchestre de Paris}, the Chicago Lyric Opera}, La Scala} of Milan, and the Kirov Opera} of St. Petersburg, Russia.
In 1990, he was appointed general music director of the city of Cologne (i.e., director of the famed Gürzenich Orchestra}/Cologne Philharmonic} and the Cologne Opera}), effective 1991. This made him the first conductor to hold both leading positions in Cologne musical life since World War II. He led the Cologne Opera} on an acclaimed tour of Japan in 1992, performing The Flying Dutchman}, The Abduction from the Seraglio}, and the Japanese premiere performances of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District}. His recording with the Gürzenich Orchestra} of Zemlinsky}'s one-act opera} The Dwarf} won the Grand Prix du Disque, the Cannes Classical Award, and the ECHO Deutsche Schallplattenpreis, and heightened the gathering interest in world-wide revival of Zemlinsky}'s music.
He was invited to make several guest appearances at the Opéra de Paris} in 1995, then was invited to take over its leadership after the political firing of Myung-Wha Chung}. After considering the instability of that position for a while, he accepted, mainly because he already enjoyed a good relationship with its new manager, Hugue Gall}, and began his tenure there in 1996. He was successful; his contract there has been renewed through 2004.
Conlon} is married to soprano Jennifer Ringo}. They and their two daughters live in the famed Latin Quarter in Paris. ~ Joseph Stevenson, All Music Guide