James Conlon, music director of Ravinia Festival since 2005, announced today that 2015 will be his final season as music director of the festival. Conlon has offered a one-year extension on his current contract that was due to expire at the end of this season, said Ravinia President and CEO Welz Kauffman. Conlon and Kauffman have shaped the 2015 season as a celebration of Conlon’s long association with Ravinia, where he has been regular guest conductor since 1977.
“At the conclusion of another wonderful summer season with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Ravinia, I have chosen to make the 2015 season my last as music director,” Conlon said. “I am grateful to Welz Kauffman, who graciously understood and accepted my decision, and will arrange for a smooth transition.
“Everything has its time, and after 11 years I feel it is the moment to pass on this responsibility. This has been a difficult decision. The work at Ravinia is very meaningful to me, and the CSO is a supreme orchestra,” continued Conlon. “I have worked year-round, including every summer, since 1974. There are things I wish to accomplish, both musical and personal, and I need dedicated time to realize these projects.
“I am deeply appreciative to the Ravinia Family for the confidence they placed in me over a decade ago, to Chairman John Anderson and all the past Ravinia Chairmen—especially Eden Martin, who presided over my hiring—the Board of Trustees, the Women’s Board, the Ravinia Associates Board and the entire Ravinia staff (some of whom I have known since my earliest visits to the festival), to the supportive public, and most of all to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for the years of beautiful and exciting music making.”
Kauffman said, “James has brought us so many magical moments at Ravinia. We’re proud of his multiyear Mahler cycle that commemorated the major anniversaries of the composer’s birth and death. His traversal of the complete Mozart Piano Concertos featured soloists who had graced all the world’s stages right alongside newly minted pianists from Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute (RSMI). And when it comes to Mozart, what could have been better than James daring to take the CSO into the Martin Theatre for a collection of Mozart operas in this perfectly sized hall, equivalent in size to the theaters Mozart himself would have known?
“Considering James’s worldwide acclaim as an opera conductor, it’s no wonder that his celebration of romantic grand operas blew the roof off the Pavilion. He has drawn on his vast experience in opera and knowledge of the contemporary opera scene to cast Ravinia’s opera performances at the highest international level. We’ll never forget Patricia Racette in Salome,Madame Butterfly and Tosca, the latter with Bryn Terfel and Salvatore Licitra; or Rigoletto with Dmitri Hvorostovsky; and Aida with Latonia Moore, Michelle DeYoung and Roberto Alagna,” Kauffman continued. “James also introduced Ravinia and generations of music lovers to the works of composers suppressed by the Nazi regime. James has made an enormous contribution internationally in rescuing these composers and their music from obscurity. His championing of this music has become a worldwide calling card and a cause that achieved particular impact at Ravinia, which also presented this work at Chicago’s Temple Sholom and at the Illinois Holocaust Museum.”
“James is a true believer, a lover of music and a musician with boundless capacity for empathy and artistry. He will be missed almost as much as he is admired by the Ravinia Family,” Anderson said. “In addition to his music making with the CSO, Conlon has also brought his teaching acumen to RSMI, adding luster to an already lustrous program, sharing his insights and decades of performing experience with these young artists. We will always be grateful to him.”
Ravinia was founded in 1904 and began presenting the CSO in an annual summer residency in 1936. Nearly three decades later Ravinia hired its first music director, Seiji Ozawa (1964–71), followed by James Levine (1971–93) and Christoph Eschenbach (1995–2003).
“As to the future of Ravinia’s musical leadership, the only decision we’ve made at this point is to not rush into a decision,” Kauffman said. “Such transitions present a rare opportunity to take a fresh look at who we are and what we do in these challenging times for classical music. We know from our audiences that they enjoy seeing a variety of guest conductors leading the CSO, so we will take our time.”