James Conlon began his tenure as the Ravinia Festival’s fourth music director on June 24, 2005, leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Ullmann’s Second Symphony and Mahler’s First Symphony. The programming that season of several works by Ullmann was part of a multiseason effort by Conlon to showcase music written by composers whose music was suppressed by the Nazi regime, remaining all but forgotten for decades following World War II.

Joshua Guerrero, Michelle DeYoung,Latonia Moore, Roberto Alagna, and JamesCreswell, along with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Verdi’s Aida on August 3, 2013 (Patrick Gipson photo)

Joshua Guerrero, Michelle DeYoung,
Latonia Moore, Roberto Alagna, and James
Creswell—along with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus—in Verdi’s Aida on August 3, 2013 (Patrick Gipson photo)

“Sophisticated programming is one thing, of course. Thrilling performances are another. The ultimate success Friday night was the committed, profoundly nuanced performance each symphony received,” wrote Wynne Delacoma in the Chicago Sun-Times. “Mahler’s Symphony no. 1 was a revelation. . . . The CSO positively glowed, most often with a low, lustrous burnish rather than a hectic gleam. In the final, frenzied movement, the Orchestra’s impeccable precision and tightly wound, urgent rhythmic drive set the blood racing.”

Conlon’s eleven seasons at Ravinia’s helm included symphonies by Mahler; seldom-heard works by Korngold, Schulhoff, Schreker, and Zemlinsky; several of Mozart’s operas performed in the Martin Theatre; as well as Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Tosca; Strauss’s Salome; and Verdi’s Aida, Otello, and Rigoletto.

Conlon had made his debut with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 28, 1977, with violinist Itzhak Perlman and cellist Lynn Harrell as soloists in Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major, Mendelsssohn’s Violin Concerto, and Brahms’s Double Concerto. Two days later, on July 30, he conducted Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 23 and Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand with John Browning and Mahler’s First Symphony. Conlon first conducted the Orchestra at Orchestra Hall on November 14, 15, 16, and 19, 1991, leading the first symphonies by Mendelssohn and Mahler. He concluded his tenure at Ravinia on August 15, 2015, leading the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists in Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman.

Image above: James Conlon (Todd Rosenberg photo)

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