Globe-trotting conductor Napa conducts “The Greatest Wagner Concert Ever!” | Arts & Theater
Little known to most Napans, an internationally renowned symphony and opera conductor lives among us and will present “The Greatest Wagner Concert Ever!” on July 9 at the Empress Theater in Vallejo.
Thomas Conlin, who lives in Napa with his wife Renay, has conducted orchestras on five continents while holding full-time positions, including artistic director and conductor of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra from 1983 to 2001 and principal conductor of the Toledo Opera from 2002 to 2015.
He has been guest conductor of orchestras such as the Philharmonisches Orchester Augsburg, Baden-Badener Philharmonie and Philharmonisches Orchester der Stadt Ulm in Germany; the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra in Rio de Janeiro; Cairo Symphony Orchestra; Volgograd Symphony Orchestra; Ankara Presidential Symphony Orchestra; Izmir State Symphony Orchestra; the Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra; the Tokyo Chamber Orchestra and the Napa Valley Symphony Orchestra.
Rare for a classical conductor, Conlin received a Grammy Award, in his case for Best Recording of a Contemporary Classical Composition, George Crumb: Star Child with the Orchestra and the Philharmonic Choir of Warsaw.
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Conlin’s full list of accomplishments is nearly overwhelming, but you can see it at www.thomasconlin.com.
Conlin has made music his life since the age of 5, when his father won a piano in a competition. Young Tom was so fascinated that his parents had to lock the lid on his keyboard to keep him from playing in the middle of the night, and they quickly signed him up for lessons.
At age 14, he became organist and choir director at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, Virginia.
“Throughout my formative years, I organized classmates into musical ensembles, mostly to play jazz and rock ‘n’ roll, although we occasionally played classical music,” said Conlin.
“I was concertmaster in my 90-piece high school orchestra and played bassoon in the Washington-Lee High School Band,” he added. He also led a jazz ensemble, a 16-piece big band, and a rock ‘n’ roll group called the Thunderbirds where he played a raised piano.
He composed music and wrote a symphony which was performed by the high school orchestra. “It was terrible,” he said.
This led to a Bachelor of Music and Master of Music from the Peabody Conservatory of Music at Johns Hopkins University, where he studied under conductors such as Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa and Erich Leinsdorf.
Its masters had three majors, conducting, piano, and composition, the only triple major in the college’s history.
He first saw himself as a composer and even wrote a Broadway-style musical that ran for a few weekends in Baltimore.
His long career continues today. “I was never famous, but I made it,” he joked. He has lived and worked in the United States, but conducted primarily in Europe. This took the Conlins to New York, North Carolina, Texas, Maryland and West Virginia.
Along the way, he came up with the idea of surtitles for operas, a godsend for those who don’t speak Italian or German.
How did he end up in Napa?
He and Renay followed their daughter, Vanessa, here in 2010.
A trained opera singer who sang professionally, including on Broadway, Venessa fell in love with wine and ended up working with Fritz Hatton in Napa Valley. She has since earned a Master of Wine degree.
The double (mistress) life of Vanessa Conlin
Vanessa told her mother, also an opera singer who had moved into arts management and fundraising, about a position as executive director of the Napa Valley Museum. Renay became the museum’s executive director until she was lured for a fundraiser in San Francisco by a number of cultural groups. She is now executive director of the Vallejo Center for the Arts, which includes the Empress Theater.
Tom Conlin continued his guest conducting, taking a few weeks to months in each position, including conducting the Vallejo Festival Orchestra in his Empress debut with the popular “Three Tenors! – the next generation” in 2020.
Then COVID-19 hit. It devastated the arts, which are only now recovering.
Conlin recently led a program of Viennese waltzes, which had been postponed due to COVID, as was the Wagner concert.
He is eager to take up the torch.
“There’s nothing quite like knowing how good I feel when I leave after coaching,” he said.
“The greatest Wagner concert of all time!”
Conlin will lead the Vallejo Festival Orchestra in selections from Wagner’s masterpieces that have captivated audiences for over a century in “The Greatest Wagner Concert Ever!” at the Empress Theater on Saturday July 9 at 7:30 p.m.
The program will include excerpts from “Tannhauser“, “Tristan and Isolde”, “Die Walkure», « Lohengrin », « The Flying Dutchman » and « Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg ».
Long before “Stars Wars” or “The Lord of the Rings,” Wagner envisioned grand dramatic spectacles, part fairy tale, part allegory, told through music.
“Wagner, perhaps more than any other composer, can be counted on to give goosebumps,” Conlin said. “This will be an evening you won’t soon forget.”
Soprano Othalie Graham will be featured in the famous “Liebestod” from “Tristan und Isolde” and in dramatic arias from “Die Walküre” and “Tannhäuser”.
Conlin called Vallejo’s historic Art Deco Empress Theater “perhaps Northern California’s finest venue for classical music.”
Buy your tickets at www.EmpressTheatre.org.
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