Dawson, Beethoven & Bernstein: A Shared Humanity
January 8-9, 2022 | Music Hall
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN: Overture to Fidelio
WILLIAM DAWSON: The Negro Folk Symphony
LEONARD BERNSTEIN: West Side Story; Symphonic Dances
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 3
Overture to Fidelio, Op. 72
- Born: December 16, 1770 in Bonn, Germany
- Died: March 26, 1827 in Vienna, Austria
- Work Composed: 1814 as part of the opera’s final version
- Premiere: The overture was not finished for the first performance at Vienna’s Kärntnertor Theater on May 23, 1814. It was premiered two days later, under the composer’s direction.
- Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, timpani, strings
- CSO Notable Performances: First performance: December 1915 at a popular concert (later named “Pops”) conducted by Ernset Kunwald. Most recent performance: April 2016 at a Classical Roots Concert conducted by John Morris Russell.
- Duration: 6 minutes
Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b
- Work Composed: Early 1806
- Premiere: March 26, 1827 as part of the opera Fidelio in Vienna, Austria
- Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, strings
- CSO Notable Performances: First performance: During the first CSO season, February 1895 at Pike Opera House conducted by Anton Seidl. Most recent performance: September 2004 conducted by Paavo Järvi. Performed during the first May Festival in May 1873 at Saengerhalle conducted by Theodore Thomas.
- Duration: 13 minutes
The decade (1804–1814) that Beethoven devoted to his only opera, Fidelio, was an unprecedented amount of time to spend perfecting such a work during the early 19th century. Given the same time span, Rossini dispensed 31 (!) operas between 1810 and 1820, and Donizetti cranked out 35 (!!) specimens of the genre from 1827 to 1837. Even Mozart launched seven operas during his decade in Vienna. For Beethoven, however, Fidelio was more than just a mere theatrical diversion—it was his philosophy set to music. This story of the triumph of justice over tyranny and love over inhumanity was a document of his faith. To present such grandiose beliefs in a work that would not fully serve them was unthinkable, and so Beethoven hammered and rewrote and changed until he was satisfied. In his book The Interior Beethoven, Irving Kolodin noted:
As tended to be the life-long case with Beethoven, the overriding consideration remained: achievement of the objective. How long it might take or how much effort might be required was not merely incidental—such consideration was all but nonexistent.
The most visible remnants of Beethoven’s extensive revisions are the quartet of overtures he composed for Fidelio, the only instance in the history of music in which a composer generated so many curtain-raisers for a single opera. The first version of the opera, written between January 1804 and early autumn 1805, was initially titled Leonore after the heroine, who courageously rescues her husband from his wrongful incarceration. For this production, Beethoven wrote the Overture in C Major now known as the Leonore No. 1, using themes from the opera. The composer’s friend and early biographer Anton Schindler recorded that Beethoven rejected this first attempt after hearing it privately performed at Prince Lichnowsky’s palace before the premiere. (Another theory, supported by recent detailed examination of the paper on which the sketches for the piece were made, holds that this work was written in 1806–07 for a projected performance of the opera in Prague that never took place, thus making Leonore No. 1 the third of the Fidelio overtures.) He composed a second C major overture, Leonore No. 2, and this piece was used at the first performance, on November 20, 1805. (The management of Vienna’s Theatre an der Wien, site of the premiere, insisted on changing the opera’s name from Leonore to Fidelio to avoid confusion with Ferdinand Paër’s Leonore.) The opera foundered. Not only was the audience unsympathetic—it was largely populated by French officers of Napoleon’s army, which had invaded Vienna exactly one week earlier—but there were also problems in Fidelio’s dramatic structure. Beethoven was encouraged by his aristocratic supporters to rework the opera and present it again. This second version, for which the magnificent Leonore Overture No. 3 was written, was presented in Vienna on March 29, 1806 and met with only slightly more acclaim than its forerunner, but it closed after only two performances, in part because of strained relations between composer and performers.
In 1814, some members of the Court Theater approached Beethoven, by then Europe’s most famous composer, about reviving Fidelio. The idealistic subject of the opera had never been far from his thoughts, and he agreed to the project. The libretto was revised yet again, and Beethoven rewrote all the numbers in the opera and changed their order to enhance the work’s dramatic impact. The new Fidelio Overture, the fourth he composed for his opera, was among the revisions. Beethoven realized that the earlier Overtures, especially the Leonore No. 3, simply overwhelmed what followed (“As a curtain raiser, it almost made the raising of the curtain superfluous,” judged Irving Kolodin), and, from a technical viewpoint, were in the wrong tonality to match the revised beginning of the opera. The compact Fidelio Overture, in E major, is now always heard to open the opera. The Leonore No. 3 often appears between the two scenes of Act II, a practice instituted in 1841 by the composer and conductor Otto Nicolai when he first produced Fidelio in the Habsburg imperial city. Both overtures are regular entries on concert programs.
Beethoven just missed completing the Fidelio Overture for the first performance of the 1814 revision. Accounts do not agree on which of his overtures was substituted for the premiere on May 23. According to Schindler, it was one of the earlier Leonore overtures; Treitschke recorded that the Prometheus Overture was played and Seyfried wrote that The Ruins of Athens was performed. The Fidelio Overture was first heard at the second performance of the run, on May 25. The Overture, whose themes do not derive from those of the opera, opens with an introduction comprising two contrasting strains of music: a rousing fanfare for the full orchestra and a darkly colored harmonic passage in slow tempo without a definable theme. The work’s compact sonata form begins with the fast tempo and the announcement by the solo horn of the main theme, based on the fanfare motive from the introduction. The fleet second theme is presented quietly by the strings following an energetic climax. The tiny central section, based on the fanfare motive, is less a true development than a transition to the recapitulation of the themes. A rousing coda, separated from the body of the Overture by a return of the slow harmonies of the introduction, brings this noble Overture to a stirring close.
—Richard E. Rodda
Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
- Born: August 25, 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts
- Died: October 14, 1990 in New York City, New York
- Work Composed: He worked on the stage version of West Side Story between February and August of 1957. It opened in Washington, D.C. on August 19, 1957 under the musical direction of Max Goberman; it then opened on Broadway on September 27, 1957.
- Premiere: The Symphonic Dances received their first concert performance in New York on February 13, 1961, with Lukas Foss conducting the New York Philharmonic.
- Instrumentation: 3 flutes (incl. piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, bass drum, 3 bongo drums, chimes, choke cymbals, congas, 3 cowbells, cymbals, finger cymbals, glockenspiel, guiro, 2 maracas, police whistle, 2 snare drums, 2 suspended cymbals, tam-tam, tambourine, tenor drum, timbales, 4 tom-toms, triangle, vibraphone, wood block, xylophone, timpani, drum set, harp, celeste, piano, strings
- CSO Notable Performances: First performance: October 1975 conducted by Carmon DeLeone. Most recent performance: October 2011 conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero.
- Duration: 23 minutes
West Side Story achieved the spectacular success that had eluded Candide (first performance in 1956). The new show was not without its own controversies, however.
Columbia Records at first refused to record the work, because of its alleged excessive wordiness and musical dissonance. But audiences and critics were impressed, even though the work was far from the typically light-hearted love story usually seen on the Broadway stage. Instead, audiences encountered a work of social criticism within the love story of two tough kids living in the midst of New York gang wars.
West Side Story was based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The feuding Montagues and Capulets became the two rival gangs, the Puerto Rican Sharks and the white Jets. The doomed lovers became Tony and Maria, and their balcony scene took place on a fire escape. Their love story became a statement on racial tensions and violence in America.
The original idea of Bernstein, librettist Arthur Laurent and choreographer Jerome Robbins had been to pit a Jewish family against an Italian or Irish family on New York’s East Side. The play was to have been called East Side Story. Bernstein felt that he knew ethnic prejudice from having grown up Jewish in New York. But in 1957 racial prejudice seemed stronger than religious conflict, and the West Side was where the gang wars were erupting. The plot began to approximate daily news stories once it crossed town and took on racial overtones. What Broadway audiences saw was a dramatization of an age-old story, dressed up in the clothes and accents of their daily environment. And what they heard was searing, aggressive music that actually told the story. When they heard Bernstein’s score, they felt the rhythms of the streets and the tensions of disadvantaged youth locked in hopeless conflicts they could neither control nor understand. As Bernstein biographer Peter Gradenwitz explains, the role of music was crucial in a work “in which brutal reality and poetic lyricism, street slang and words of love, musical drama and volatile ballet scenes overlap in constant change and variation.”
Once West Side Story became a commercial success, its music was disseminated widely. The songs “I Feel Pretty,” “Tonight,” “Maria,” “Somewhere” and “America” became popular hits; the show was produced worldwide in several languages; the soundtrack record album was heard everywhere; the movie version became a favorite (a second feature-length film adaption was released on December 10, 2021 directed by Steven Spielberg); and a suite of dance music was widely performed by symphony and pops orchestras. There were also two suites made as a vehicle to present the best-loved tunes from the show to concert audiences.
The Symphonic Dances from West Side Story focus on the music that accompanies the show’s dances, even omitting references to several of the best-known songs. The ever-overworked composer asked his Broadway orchestrators, Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal, to help. The suite’s movements follow one another without pause as they trace the story. The following explanation is based on the synopsis by Joan Brown:
The “Prologue” depicts the rivalry between the two gangs. “Somewhere” is a dream song, envisioning a world in which there is a place for love and friendship. The “Scherzo” is a dream sequence that allows the slum boys and girls to escape the city and emerge into space and sun. The “Mambo” brings the gangs back to reality, as they find themselves in the school gym for the dance. The “Cha-Cha” (“Maria”) is a reminiscence of the first meeting of Tony and Maria. The “Cool Fugue” characterizes the Jets, bursting with tension in anticipation of battle with the Sharks. The “Rumble” is the battle music that accompanies the deaths of the two gang leaders. The “Finale” recalls the tragedy, as Tony’s body is carried off in procession by members of both gangs. Everyone is moved by Maria’s anguish, as well as by the dream of a “Somewhere,” a place of peace.
—Jonathan D. Kramer
The Negro Folk Symphony
- Born: September 26, 1899, Anniston, Alabama
- Died: May 2, 1990, Montgomery, Alabama
- Work Composed:
- Premiere: November 1934, Leopold Stokowski (former CSO Music Director) conducting The Philadelphia Orchestra
- Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, E-flat clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, chimes, crash cymbals, gong, snare drum, steel plate, tenor drum, triangle, xylophone, harp, strings
- CSO Notable Performances: These performances are the complete work’s CSO premiere. Other: Michael Morgan led movement 1 of the work at the March 2011 Classical Roots concert.
- Duration: 36 minutes
In November 1934, Leopold Stokowski conducted The Philadelphia Orchestra in four performances of The Negro Folk Symphony. William Levi Dawson thus became the third African American composer whose symphony was premiered by a major American orchestra within just a few years. William Grant Still had been the first, his Afro-American Symphony debuted by the Rochester Philharmonic in 1931. The second was Florence B. Price, whose Symphony in E Minor the Chicago Symphony played in 1933. In the waning years of the “New Negro” Renaissance, these performances appeared to herald a new era of inclusiveness for white-dominated musical institutions. In fact, the new era did not materialize—only Still’s symphony escaped decades of obscurity.
Unlike Still and Price, Dawson did not compose any more symphonies. His singular Negro Folk Symphony is an astonishing work: bold, expressive, riveting and memorable. Once you have heard it, you are likely to lament that it is his only one. (But you can still check out eight others by Price and Still!)
William Dawson was born in 1899 in Anniston, Alabama. The first of seven children born to George and Eliza Dawson, he showed an early aptitude for both music and academics. His father took him out of school around age 10 to help support the family; his mother helped him run away to Tuskegee Institute before his 14th birthday. While at Tuskegee, the historically Black school founded by Booker T. Washington (who was still president when Dawson arrived), he received an outstanding general and musical education. Tuskegee also fostered in him the self-discipline, race pride, and commitment to excellence that were to be the hallmarks of his long career.
After receiving his diploma in 1921, Dawson spent his 20s excelling in a variety of musical jobs in the Midwest: church choir director, school band director, trombonist in both a jazz band and the Chicago Civic Orchestra. He also continued his education, becoming the first Black student to receive a bachelor’s degree from the Horner Institute of Fine Arts in Kansas City, Missouri, and earning a master’s degree in composition from the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. At least part of the motivation for Dawson’s post-Tuskegee studies was his desire to compose a symphony.
He started his “Symphony No. 1” in the late 1920s while living in Chicago and rubbing shoulders with the city’s other Black artists and musicians, including Florence Price. In 1930, Tuskegee Institute welcomed him back to Alabama, where he remained on the music department faculty until his resignation in 1955. Although he traveled widely for conducting and speaking engagements in the decades that followed, he and his wife Cecile maintained their home in Tuskegee until the end of their long lives.
Under Dawson’s leadership, the Tuskegee Institute Choir quickly achieved national acclaim. In 1932 the choir spent six weeks in New York City, performing in the gala concerts marking the opening of Radio City Music Hall. There, Dawson’s path crossed with that of Stokowski–an encounter that led to his symphony’s premiere in November 1934.
The Negro Folk Symphony received instant acclaim. At all four performances, including three at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music and one at Carnegie Hall, the audience broke with customary etiquette to applaud after the second movement. The end of the symphony earned a standing ovation every time. Black and white critics alike penned glowing reviews–a rarity for any new American composition. One of the concerts was broadcast nationwide on the radio. Wrote Mae Belle Thomas, one of the many African American listeners who sent the composer letters, “I’m so full of enthusiasm, I can’t gather my thoughts correctly. But I must thank you for the million and one Negroes who missed hearing your symphony and again for the thousands that did hear it.”
A symphony so successful at its premiere might be expected to join works by George Gershwin and Aaron Copland in U.S. orchestras’ regular rotations. Unfortunately, few performances followed. With only two conductor’s scores and one set of orchestral parts to go around, Dawson’s symphonic masterpiece faded quickly from the classical music establishment’s view.
In the years that followed, he dedicated the majority of his compositional energy to choral arrangements of spirituals such as “Ain’-a That Good News,” “Ev’ry Time I Hear the Spirit,” and “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” Dawson’s spirituals are sung to this day by choirs around the world. Although it is regrettable that he was not a more prolific symphonist, he left a profound legacy through his choral music. Committed to his students at Tuskegee and to lifting up African American folk music, Dawson chose in his prime to turn away from the racist obstacles of the prestigious orchestral music world.
Nonetheless, The Negro Folk Symphony did not fade from his mind. In 1952-53 Dawson spent several weeks touring West Africa, realizing a lifelong dream. The music he heard and recorded there inspired him, upon his return to the United States, to significantly revise his symphony. Improving and expanding what had already been a fully successful piece, it is this revised version that has been professionally recorded three times, most recently in 2020. In the current Black Lives Matter era, The Negro Folk Symphony is increasingly being performed, as mainstream orchestras awaken to the significance of this and other compositions by Black composers past and present.
The title of The Negro Folk Symphony merits discussion. The word “Negro,” uncomfortable to many today, was for Dawson and many others of his generation a term of pride and respect. Although mainstream preferences had shifted by the time of his passing in 1990, Dawson remained committed to the old word. For him, “Black” was a color, too limited to encompass his heritage. Throughout his life he championed the culture and history of his race.
Then there is the title’s second word, “folk.” Dawson was certainly not the first to bring orally transmitted folk songs into a symphony composed for the concert hall. In interviews he often noted that Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Johannes Brahms, and other canonic composers had also drawn inspiration from their nations’ folk music. Most significant of Dawson’s precursors was Antonín Dvořák, who in 1893 had astonished the elite musical establishment in the U.S. with his declaration, “I am now satisfied that the future music of this country must be founded upon what are called Negro melodies. This must be the real foundation of any serious and original school of composition to be developed in the United States.” Dvořák’s beloved Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” showcases the inspiration he himself took from African American folk music. Listeners familiar with Dvořák’s symphony will hear Dawson’s homage to it in The Negro Folk Symphony. He, like Still and Price, was greatly encouraged by Dvořák’s words and example.
The use that The Negro Folk Symphony makes of folk music is uniquely Dawson’s. In his program notes from 1934, he alerts the listener to his use of three spirituals, known to him since childhood. These are conspicuously not among the genre’s most familiar songs: “Oh, My Little Soul Gwine Shine Like a Star” (also known as “Dig My Grave”), “O Le’ Me Shine,” and “Hallelujah, Lord, I Been Down into the Sea.” Dawson deftly weaves each tune into the piece’s form and texture, allowing no contrast between “folk” and “symphony.”
The arrival of the first spiritual identified by Dawson does not come until several minutes into the piece. The four-note motive with which The Negro Folk Symphony begins, however, may itself come from a better-known spiritual that Dawson chose not to point out, “Go Down, Moses.” Rather than the beginning of that song’s verse or chorus, the motive resembles the melody at the words “Egypt land”:
Go down, Moses
‘Way down in Egypt land,
Tell ole Pharaoh,
To let my people go.
In 1963 Dawson wrote, “A link was taken out of a human chain when the first African was taken from the shores of his native land and sent to slavery.’ The solemn motive of the Introduction, first sounded by the French horn, symbolizes this ‘missing link.’” The motive occurs repeatedly throughout the symphony, connecting its three movements. Sometimes it is prominent, either heroic or ominous. At other times it flits past, or bubbles up in the middle of a busy passage. This recurring motive helps The Negro Folk Symphony tell its story.
The titles of the three movements provide a general sense of a narrative. After a slow and generally tragic introduction, the first movement, “The Bond of Africa” (in conventional sonata form) is marked by rhythmic excitement, melodies that gesture toward African American genres such as juba and ragtime, and expert use of orchestral color. The first Dawson-identified spiritual, “Oh, My Little Soul Gwine Shine Like a Star,” appears as a jaunty secondary theme, played first by a solo oboe. Although the overall mood of the movement is celebratory, there are moments when a dark cloud seems to cover the sun, as at the beginning of the developmental middle section when the “link” motive is sounded ominously by overlapping trombones, horns, trumpets, English horn and clarinets. This first movement hints at a sense of both wonder and grief over a homeland that in 1934 Dawson had only dreamed of seeing.
“Hope in the Night,” the second movement that elicited spontaneous ovations from the symphony’s first audiences, has the most extensive program note from the composer. Dawson wrote in 1934:
This movement opens (Andante, 4–4) with three strokes from the gong, intended to suggest the Trinity, who guides forever the destiny of man. The strings, playing pizzicato, provide a monotonous background, creating the atmosphere of the humdrum life of a people whose bodies were baked by the sun and lashed with the whip for two hundred and fifty years; whose lives were proscribed before they were born. The English horn sings a melody that describes the characteristics, hopes, and longings of a Folk held in darkness. After a climax, this division is followed by one conceived in a happier mood. The children, unmindful of the heavy cadences of despair, sing and play; but even in their world of innocence, there is a little wail, a brief note of sorrow. After much development of the theme of the children, and a cry from the strings, muted brasses, and trilling woodwinds, there is a return of the previous material. This in turn is succeeded by another outburst, in which the “Leading Motive” is given out by the full orchestra. The movement closes with slow crescendos and decrescendos after each of three mysterious sounds from the gong and other percussion instruments.
Unlike many portrayals of antebellum life from this period, such as Gone with the Wind, there is no idealizing or nostalgia here. This is the only movement in the symphony that does not include any spirituals, thus denying listeners the comfort of imagining the enslaved finding solace in religion.
The third movement, “O Le’ Me Shine, Shine Like a Morning Star!,” offers rebirth. With bubbling energy it processes the journey of the previous movements, turning its themes every which way to catch the light. The inclusion of the spiritual “Hallelujah, Lord, I Been Down into the Sea” acknowledges the despair of slavery, but also rejoices at deliverance. As a result of Dawson’s revision, the movement prominently features complex rhythms and vivid percussive colors—elements derived from African diasporic traditions. The symphony’s rhythmically explosive conclusion transforms the orchestra into an ensemble like those Dawson marveled at during his time in Africa. He ends the symphony not with the four-note “link” motive, but with a different gesture: four bold, unison notes that evoke a West African talking drum. With this jubilant shout, the Negro Folk Symphony offers a symbolic musical repair of the break in the human chain wrought by the transatlantic slave trade.
Gwynne Kuhner Brown
Professor of Music, University of Puget Sound
“He has long been one of classical music’s most compelling advocates, but somewhere along the way, Conlon has fully assumed the mantle of the most accomplished music director currently on the podium of an American opera house.” —Opera News
“Conlon is the real thing: a master of the orchestra with genuine theatricality
and no discernible narcissism.” —Los Angeles Times
James Conlon, one of today’s most versatile and respected conductors, has cultivated a vast symphonic, operatic and choral repertoire. He has conducted virtually every major American and European symphony orchestra since his debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1974. Through worldwide touring, an extensive discography and videography, numerous essays and commentaries, frequent television appearances and guest speaking engagements, Mr. Conlon is one of classical music’s most recognized interpreters.
Mr. Conlon is Music Director of the Los Angeles Opera (since 2006), where he recently extended his contract through 2025, and Artistic Advisor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (since 2021). He has been Principal Conductor of the RAI National Symphony Orchestra in Torino, Italy (2016–20); Principal Conductor of the Paris Opera (1995–2004); General Music Director of the City of Cologne, Germany (1989–2003), simultaneously leading the Gürzenich Orchestra and the Cologne Opera; and Music Director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (1983–91).
Mr. Conlon has served as the Music Director of the Ravinia Festival (2005–15), summer home of the Chicago Symphony, and is now Music Director Laureate of the Cincinnati May Festival―the oldest Choral Festival in the United States―where he was Music Director for 37 years (1979–2016), marking one of the longest tenures of any director of an American classical music institution. As a guest conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, he has led more than 270 performances since his 1976 debut. He has also conducted at leading opera houses and festivals including the Wiener Staatsoper, Salzburg Festival, La Scala, Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, Mariinsky Theatre, Covent Garden, Chicago Lyric Opera, Teatro Comunale di Bologna, and Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.
As LA Opera Music Director since 2006, Mr. Conlon has led more performances than any other conductor in the company’s history—to date, nearly 400 performances of more than 50 different operas by over 20 composers. Highlights of his LA Opera tenure include conducting the company’s first Ring cycle, recently re-aired in a marathon webcast celebrating the performances’ 10th anniversary; initiating the groundbreaking Recovered Voices series, an ongoing commitment to staging masterpieces of 20th-century European opera that were suppressed by the Third Reich; and spearheading Britten 100/LA, a city-wide celebration honoring the centennial of the composer’s birth. During the period in which Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was closed due to the pandemic, Mr. Conlon conducted LA Opera’s live-streamed, socially distanced production—staged at the Colburn School—of The Anonymous Lover by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a prominent Black composer in 18th-century France. The performance was presented as an online-only event in fall 2020 and marked the work’s West Coast premiere. The Pavilion reopened in June 2021 with Mr. Conlon conducting the company premiere of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex, with which LA Opera became the first major American opera company to perform live in its own theater since the coronavirus outbreak. The performance was subsequently released online for at-home viewing. During LA Opera’s 2021–22 season, Mr. Conlon conducts three operas long absent from the company’s repertory: Verdi’s Il Trovatore, which opens the season; Wagner’s Tannhäuser; and Verdi’s Aida. He also conducts John Neumeier’s ballet adaptation of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, performed at LA Opera for the first time.
Mr. Conlon’s first season as Artistic Advisor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra includes three weeks of concerts, starting with an October 2021 program of music by historically marginalized composers. The featured works are Alexander Zemlinsky’s Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid), which is the piece that sparked Mr. Conlon’s interest in suppressed music from the early 20th century, and William Levi Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony, which reflects a theme that will recur throughout Mr. Conlon’s advisorship—the bringing of attention to works by American composers neglected due to their race. He returns in February 2022 for performances including Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony and the final scene of Wagner’s Die Walküre, with guest artists Christine Goerke and Greer Grimsley. The BSO season concludes in June 2022 with Mr. Conlon conducting an orchestra co-commission from Wynton Marsalis, Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with Beatrice Rana, and Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony (“Leningrad”). As Artistic Advisor, in addition to leading these performances, Mr. Conlon will help ensure the continued artistic quality of the orchestra and fill many duties off the podium, including those related to artistic personnel—such as filling important vacancies and attracting exceptional musicians.
Additional highlights of Mr. Conlon’s season include Bach’s St. Matthew Passion at Rome Opera, Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer at New National Theatre, Tokyo, the Paris Opera’s Gala lyrique with Renée Fleming, and concerts with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony and works by Beethoven and Bernstein), Gürzenich Orchester Köln (Sinfoniettas by Zemlinsky and Korngold), Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra (works by Shostakovich and Zemlinsky), and at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. Mr. Conlon’s 2021-22 season follows a spring and summer in which he was highly active amidst the re-opening of many venues to live performance. These engagements included concerts with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, and RAI National Symphony Orchestra. He also led a series of performances in Spain scheduled around World Music Day (June 21). In Madrid, over a period of two days, he conducted the complete symphonies of Schumann and Brahms in collaboration with four different Spanish orchestras: the Orquesta Nacional de España, Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia, Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León, and Joven Orquesta Nacional de España (JONDE). He subsequently conducted JONDE at the Festival de Granada and Seville’s Teatro de la Maestranza. Additional summer 2021 concerts included the Aspen, Ravello, and Ravinia Festivals.
In an effort to call attention to lesser-known works of composers silenced by the Nazi regime, Mr. Conlon has devoted himself to extensive programming of this music throughout Europe and North America. In 1999 he received the Vienna-based Zemlinsky Prize for his efforts in bringing that composer’s music to international attention; in 2013 he was awarded the Roger E. Joseph Prize at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion for his extraordinary efforts to eradicate racial and religious prejudice and discrimination; and in 2007 he received the Crystal Globe Award from the Anti-Defamation League. His work on behalf of suppressed composers led to the creation of The OREL Foundation, an invaluable resource on the topic for music lovers, students, musicians, and scholars; the Ziering-Conlon Initiative for Recovered Voices at the Colburn School; and a recent virtual TEDx Talk titled “Resurrecting Forbidden Music.”
Mr. Conlon is an enthusiastic advocate of public scholarship and cultural institutions as forums for the exchange of ideas and inquiry into the role music plays in our shared humanity and civic life. At LA Opera, he leads pre-performance talks, drawing upon musicology, literary studies, history, and social sciences to contemplate—together with his audience—the enduring power and relevance of opera and classical music in general. Additionally, he frequently collaborates with universities, museums, and other cultural institutions, and works with scholars, practitioners, and community members across disciplines. His appearances throughout the country as a speaker on a variety of cultural and educational topics are widely praised.
Mr. Conlon’s extensive discography and videography can be found on the Bridge, Capriccio, Decca, EMI, Erato, and Sony Classical labels. His recordings of LA Opera productions have received four Grammy® Awards, two respectively for John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles and Kurt Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. Additional highlights include an ECHO Klassik Award-winning recording cycle of operas and orchestral works by Alexander Zemlinsky; a CD/DVD release of works by Viktor Ullmann, which won the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik; and the world-premiere recording of Liszt’s oratorio St. Stanislaus.
Mr. Conlon holds four honorary doctorates and has received numerous other awards. He was one of the first five recipients of the Opera News Awards, and was honored by the New York Public Library as a Library Lion. He was named Commendatore Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana by Sergio Mattarella, President of the Italian Republic. He was also named Commandeur de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture and, in 2002, personally accepted France’s highest honor, the Legion d’Honneur, from then-President of the French Republic Jacques Chirac.
Artistic Leadership and Orchestra Roster
LOUIS LANGRÉE, CSO Music Director
- Louise Dieterle Nippert & Louis Nippert Chair
JOHN MORRIS RUSSELL, Pops Conductor
- Louise Dieterle Nippert & Louis Nippert Chair
Matthias Pintscher, CSO Creative Partner
Damon Gupton, Pops Principal Guest Conductor
François López-Ferrer, CSO Associate Conductor
- Ashley and Barbara Ford Chair for Associate Conductor
Wilbur Lin, Pops Assistant Conductor
- Ashley and Barbara Ford Chair for Assistant Conductor
—Anna Sinton Taft Chair
Acting Associate Concertmaster
—Tom & Dee Stegman Chair
First Assistant Concertmaster
—James M. Ewell Chair++
Second Assistant Concertmaster
—Serge Shababian Chair
—Nicholas Tsimaras–Peter G. Courlas Chair++
—Dianne & J. David Rosenberg Chair
—Marc Bohlke Chair given by Katrin & Manfred Bohlke
Michelle Edgar Dugan
Rebecca Kruger Fryxell
Clifford J. Goosmann and Andrea M. Wilson Chair
—Jean Ten Have Chair
Lois Reid Johnson
—Anne G. & Robert W. Dorsey Chair++
—Jo Ann & Paul Ward Chair
—Al Levinson Chair
—Harold B. & Betty Justice Chair
—Henry Meyer Chair
—Ida Ringling North Chair
—Charles Gausmann Chair++
—Brenda & Ralph Taylor Chair++
—Louise D. & Louis Nippert Chair
—Grace M. Allen Chair
—Melinda & Irwin Simon Chair
—Irene & John J. Emery Chair
—Ona Hixson Dater Chair
—Karl & Roberta Schlachter Family Chair
—Marvin Kolodzik Chair
—Laura Kimble McLellan Chair++
—Peter G. Courlas–Nicholas Tsimaras Chair++
—Ruth F. Rosevear Chair
—Mary Alice Heekin Burke Chair++
—Thomas Vanden Eynden Chair
Matthew Zory, Jr.**+
—Trish & Rick Bryan Chair
—Donald & Margaret Robinson Chair
Gillian Benet Sella
—Cynthia & Frank Stewart Chair
—Charles Frederic Goss Chair
—Jane & David Ellis Chair
—Patricia Gross Linnemann Chair
—Josephine I. & David J. Joseph, Jr. Chair
—Stephen P. McKean Chair
—Alberta & Dr. Maurice Marsh Chair+
—Emma Margaret & Irving D. Goldman Chair
Associate Principal and Eb Clarinet
—Robert E. & Fay Boeh Chair++
Vicky & Rick Reynolds Chair in Honor of William A. Friedlander
—Emalee Schavel Chair++
—Mary M. & Charles F. Yeiser Chair
—Ellen A. & Richard C. Berghamer Chair
Acting Associate Principal
—Sweeney Family Chair in memory of Donald C. Sweeney
—Susanne & Philip O. Geier, Jr. Chair
—Mary & Joseph S. Stern, Jr. Chair
—Jackie & Roy Sweeney Family Chair
—Otto M. Budig Family Foundation Chair++
—Dorothy & John Hermanies Chair
Second/Assistant Principal Trombone
—Ashley & Barbara Ford Chair
—Matthew & Peg Woodside Chair
Acting Associate Principal
—Morleen & Jack Rouse Chair
—Susan S. & William A. Friedlander Chair
—Morleen & Jack Rouse Chair
—James P. Thornton Chair
—James P. Thornton Chair
CSO/CCM DIVERSITY FELLOWS
Maalik Glover, violin
Mwakudua waNgure, violin
Tyler McKisson, viola
Javier Otalora, viola
Max Oppeltz-Carroz, cello
Luis Parra, cello
Samantha Powell, cello
Luis Celis Avila, bass
Amy Nickler, bass
—Lois Klein Jolson Chair
Acting Associate Principal Librarian
Interim Assistant Librarian
Brian P. Schott
Phillip T. Sheridan