Music Director James Conlon Turns the Tables on Our Reporter

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Byline: Bill Gowen

For the past 24 years, James Conlon has served the Cincinnati May Festival with distinction as music director.

Starting in 2005, the Ravinia Festival's music directorship will be added to the impressive resume of this internationally acclaimed conductor.

By sheer coincidence, I had scheduled an interview with Conlon last Saturday night during the opening weekend of the 130th May Festival, not knowing his annointment by Ravinia was imminent. As a result, it was Conlon, back at Cincinnati's historic Music Hall following a whirlwind trip to Chicago for Ravinia's introductory news conference that morning, who broke the news to this reporter.

"Ravinia played an important role in the early years of my career, so now, to be following Christoph Eschenbach as music director, is a very great honor," he said.

Conlon added that Ravinia's timing was perfect. Like most conductors at the highest level of their profession, his schedule over the past decade has been incredibly tight.

That's why, after an unbroken string of Ravinia guest-conducting appearances from his debut in 1977 until 1990, he spent several summers attending to his European commitments. They included the general music directorship of the city of Cologne, Germany, which he held from 1989 to 2002 (in which he was in charge of that city's orchestra and opera); and the Paris Opera, which he took over in 1995 and where he will give his final performance as principal conductor in July 2005.

Conlon also had a highly successful run (1983-91) as music director of the Rotterdam (Netherlands) Philharmonic. He has also been a prominent guest conductor at New York's Metropolitan Opera that past 25 years.

"I had decided I wanted to work more in the United States at this stage of my career," said the New York native, who is married to soprano Jennifer Ringo and has two daughters, Luisa and Emma.

Conlon, who holds the title of music director designate, will conduct the CSO in two Ravinia programs this summer, an all- Beethoven evening July 18 and the Edward Gordon memorial concert the following night featuring music by Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky and Dvorak. It was Gordon, then executive director, who first brought Conlon to Ravinia in 1977.

One post Conlon does not plan to relinquish is the May Festival, the oldest choral festival in the United States, started by Theodore Thomas in 1873. Thomas, of course, went on to found the Chicago Symphony Orchestra 18 years later.

"I feel the May Festival and Ravinia complement each other perfectly," Conlon said. …