(October 9, 2023) — American conductor James Conlon has been awarded Austria’s Cross of Honor for Science and Art (Österreichische Ehrenkreuz für Wissenschaft und Kunst). The Cross of Honor, instituted in 1955, is a state decoration from the Republic of Austria and is part of the Austrian national honors system. The award honors both Austrians and non-Austrians who have “distinguished themselves and earned general acclaim through especially superior creative and commendable services in the areas of the sciences or the arts.”
Conlon received the decoration in the presence of the Austrian Ambassador to the United States, Ddr. Petra Schneebauer, and the Austrian Consul General of Los Angeles, Dr. Michael Postl, from Prof. Martin Polaschek, Austria’s Minister for Education, Science, and Research, during a ceremony held at the residence of the Austrian Consul General on October 6, 2023. Recipients of the decoration are presented with a medal and a diploma.
Austria’s Cross of Honor is one of the most prestigious European distinctions that Conlon has been awarded over the course of his career. He received the Légion d'Honneur (Legion of Honor) in 2002 and was inducted personally by then-President of France, Jacques Chirac, and in 2004 he was named Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Commander the Order of Arts and Letters) by the French Minister of Culture. He received the Commendatore Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana (Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic) by the President of the Italian Republic in 2018.
In 2007 he received the Crystal Globe Award from the Anti-Defamation League and in 2013 he was awarded the Roger E. Joseph Prize at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion for his efforts to eradicate racial and religious prejudice and discrimination. In 1999 he received the Zemlinsky Prize for his defense of the Austrian composer from the Zemlinsky Stiftung (Foundation) in Vienna.
In a career spanning over fifty years, James Conlon has devoted himself to classical music, particularly focusing on important elements of Austrian art and culture around the world, with extraordinary passion and dedication. For more than three decades, he has championed the study and performance of repertoire of composers suppressed under the Nazi Regime, including significant Austrian composers such as, among others, Arnold Schönberg, Alexander von Zemlinsky, Franz Schreker, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Ernest Krenek, and the recently deceased 103 year old Walter Arlen.
Through programming concerts, public speaking engagements, and lecturing about the music of the suppressed, forced to emigrate, or executed by the Nazi regime, Conlon has raised significant public awareness of their important, yet still relatively neglected music.
In the early 1990s, as Generalmusikdirektor of the city of Köln, Germany, Conlon began programming and recording works that had been banned after 1933. Among his discography are over a dozen recordings of the works of Alexander Zemlinsky, including his entire orchestral and choral output, and three of his eight operas. He continued this work throughout his years as Principal Conductor of the Paris Opera, and with the Chicago and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestras as Music Director of the Ravinia and Cincinnati May Festivals.
In 2007 Conlon originated his Recovered Voices mission at the Los Angeles Opera in an effort to bring these lesser-known compositions back to the stage. In that context he conducted several U.S. premieres, for instance, the first full production of any Franz Schreker opera (Die Gezeichneten) and Der Zerbrochen Krug (Viktor Ullman), and west coast premieres of Zemlinsky's Der Zwerg (to be revived this season) and Eine Florenteinische Tragödie.
Conlon’s work on behalf of silenced composers led to the creation of The OREL Foundation, an invaluable online 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.”
Conlon has conducted virtually every major symphony orchestra in Europe, the United States and Canada, and at many of the world's great opera houses, including the Wiener Staatsoper and The Salzburg Festival.