James Conlon
James Conlon | Credit: Bonnie Perkinson

The 2025–2026 season will be one of finales and farewells for Southern California music lovers.

James Conlon has announced that the season, his 20th as music director of Los Angeles Opera, will also be his last in that role. Gustavo Dudamel will be leading his 16th and final season with the Los Angeles Philharmonic then as well.

While Dudamel’s impact on the LA Phil has been enormous, Conlon’s tenure at LA Opera has arguably been even more impactful to that company. When he departs, he will have been music director for half of the organization’s four-decade existence.

“Twenty years with the company marks an extraordinary personal milestone,” Conlon said in a statement. “The long, productive relationship that I have shared with LA Opera and the greater Los Angeles community has been a source of enormous personal fulfillment.”

Conlon has conducted more than 460 performances to date with the company. Highlights of his tenure include LA Opera’s first complete Wagner Ring cycle in 2010; the “Figaro Trilogy” of 2015, which featured Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, and John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles; and the Recovered Voices initiative, through which Conlon has championed music by composers whose work was suppressed by the Nazi regime or other forces of oppression. The latest installment of that project, which just concluded, featured Alexander Zemlinsky’s The Dwarf and William Grant Still’s Highway 1, USA.

Always a collaborative artist, Conlon thanked a long list of people he has worked with at the company, from board chairman Keith Leonard Jr. to the costume and wig department.

“James’s impact as music director is unparalleled and cannot be overstated,” said president and CEO Christopher Koelsch. “He has been a fierce and passionate advocate for the power and beauty of the art form.” Koelsch added that the LA Opera Orchestra has become “one of the premier orchestras in the world” under Conlon’s guidance.

James Conlon
James Conlon | Credit: Dan Steinberg

Koelsch said a search committee, including members of the orchestra, will soon be appointed to find a new music director. He hopes that person will be in place for the 2026–2027 season.

For his part, Conlon said that while he has no plans to stop conducting, he is “moving on to a new phase of my professional activities.” Specifically, he will spend much of his time working to develop “a new and growing audience for classical music across generations.” He plans to do this through “conducting, writing, public speaking, and, most importantly, education and mentorship.”

Conlon also plans to continue Recovered Voices in Los Angeles and beyond. “I will never live to see the end of that mission,” he told the Associated Press. “It takes time. And it is an example of how easy it is for humanity to destroy and how difficult it is to rebuild.”