James Conlon is among the most successful American conductors of his generation, but his rise was largely founded upon critical acclaim garnered in the major European opera houses. Conlon's talents, however, extend beyond the realm of opera: he has forged a distinguished international reputation in the concert hall, showing an affinity for the works of Weber, Liszt, and especially Alexander von Zemlinsky. Conlon has also championed Zemlinsky's rarely encountered operas Der Traumgörge and Der Zwerg and has developed a significant following for his incisive interpretations of mainstream fare by Verdi, Wagner, and Puccini. Conlon has made more than 60 recordings, spread over a spate of major labels that includes Decca, EMI, Erato, Euroarts, RCA, Sony, TDK, Telarc, Virgin Classics, and Warner Classics.
James Conlon was born in Queens, NY, on March 18, 1950. He was a late bloomer, first taking voice lessons at 11. At 15 he enrolled at Fiorello H. La Guardia High School of Music and Art and at 18 at Juilliard, where he studied conducting.
Conlon led the Juilliard Orchestra on a European tour in 1970 and the following year, while serving as a répétiteur at the Spoleto Festival, he made his official debut there conducting Boris Godunov.
In 1974 Conlon became the youngest conductor to lead the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in subscription series concerts. Other important debuts soon followed, including at the Met in Die Zauberflöte and the Scottish Opera in Macbeth (both 1976), and Covent Garden in Don Carlos (1979).
Conlon was appointed director of the 1979 Cincinnati May Festival and regularly worked at the Paris Opera and Maggio Musicale in Florence in the 1980s, both while serving as music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic (1983-1991).
From 1988-1990 he conducted Verdi operas at the Chicago Lyric Opera, and from 1988-2002 he was music director of both the Cologne-based Gürzenich Orchestra and Cologne Opera. The busy Conlon also managed to serve as principal conductor at the Paris National Opera from 1995-2004.
In 2006 Conlon accepted the position of music director of the Los Angeles Opera. The following year he committed to terms contracting him there through 2011. Conlon has appeared on several PBS television series, including a set of six shows in 2006 on the Van Cliburn Competition. Among his recordings is the 2008 release on Capriccio of Estranged Passengers, a CD featuring the Symphony No. 2 by Viktor Ullmann.