Conlon Extension Provides Ravinia with Continuity

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Byline: Bill Gowen

While it's not necessarily the end-all, continuity is very important in classical music leadership. That's why Thursday's announcement that James Conlon has agreed to a contract extension as the Ravinia Festival's music director through 2011 is very good news for both the festival and its audience.

There's little doubt the major attraction for Conlon at Ravinia is his ongoing relationship with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which he first conducted at Ravinia in the 1970s.

Also, it's a winning situation for the CSO during the period while its search continues for a new music director. The naming of Bernard Haitink as principal conductor has brought a level of artistic stability to Symphony Center, and the orchestra's eight- week residency at Ravinia will benefit by the likewise stability of Conlon's new agreement.

Conlon, one of the world's busiest conductors, has given much to Ravinia since taking over for Christoph Eschenbach in 2005. Working in close collaboration with president and CEO Welz Kauffman, Conlon has begun a series of concerts titled "Breaking the Silence," which honors composers and their music suppressed during the Holocaust. This summer, Conlon will focus on the music of Alexander von Zemlinsky, including the Ravinia premieres of "The Mermaid" (also the subject of Ravinia's "One Score, One Chicago" educational initiative in 2007); and "A Florentine Tragedy," Zemlinsky's one- act opera based on a text by Oscar Wilde.

Zemlinsky is a composer whose music Conlon has championed for years, his series of concerts and recordings made in Cologne, Germany, earning the American maestro the 1999 Zemlinsky Prize. Conlon was Cologne's general music director from 1989-2002, leading that city's orchestra and opera.

Also, Conlon will continue his Ravinia project to conduct all the Mahler symphonies. This summer, we'll hear Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6, and the final installment of the cycle will take place in 2011, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the composer's death. …