James Conlon conducts his 100th opera and takes the Cincinnati May Festival performers to Carnegie Hall for Spring for Music

03.20.14
James Conlon

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 Herring, Noye's Fludde, Rape 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 Furnace, Curlew River, and The Prodigal Son), and sundry orchestral and choral works (including Cantata misericordium, Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, War Requiem, and the Violin Concerto)—across the US and Europe.

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”.