James Blachly, conductor
"Ethel Smyth, the British suffragist, has found another advocate in the conductor James Blachly, whose recording of her last major work, “The Prison,” from 1931, exudes quality (Chandos) — an album of the year, by any measure." - New York Times
“The conductor James Blachly elicits splendid work from the vocal soloists, Sarah Brailey and Dashon Burton, and from the Experiential Orchestra and Chorus." - The New Yorker
”Led by conductor James Blachly, the [Experiential Orchestra] takes an unconventional approach to classical music: Think spontaneous swaying, dancing and general revelry—or wherever the music leads you.” - Time Out New York
“Throughout the concert, Blachly displayed an articulate and artistic style, his every gesture finding immediate orchestral response.” - Virginia Gazette
”Another plus is the talented orchestra, which is splendidly served by ... the supple conducting of James Blachly, who illuminates the vivacity and the poignancy of Mozart’s score.” - Finger Lakes Times
“James Blachly has been a gift to Johnstown, his passion and imagination a blessing for his Johnstown Symphony Orchestra and our region.” - The Tribune Democrat
James Blachly is a Grammy®-winning conductor dedicated to enriching the concert experience by connecting with audiences in memorable and meaningful ways. James Blachly serves as Music Director of the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra and of the Experiential Orchestra, and is a versatile guest conductor in diverse repertoire with orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and the New Haven Symphony Orchestra.
With the Johnstown Symphony, Blachly has conducted the orchestra at the Flight 93 Memorial for the 20th Anniversary of 9/11, in a former steel mill in a concert that was featured on Katie Couric’s America Inside Out, and in six seasons the orchestra has increased season ticket sales and annual giving each by more than 50%. In 2021, he received a commendation by the City of Johnstown and the Johnstown chapter of the NAACP.
With the Experiential Orchestra, he has conducted the works of Arvo Pärt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, invited audiences to dance to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, sit within the orchestra at Lincoln Center, and engage with Symphonie fantastique and Petrushka with circus choreography at The Muse in Brooklyn. Their world premiere recording of English composer Dame Ethel Smyth’s 1930 masterpiece The Prison, released on Chandos Records, won a 2021 Grammy Award and was widely acclaimed by The New York Times, The New Yorker, Gramophone, San Francisco Chronicle, Financial Times, The Guardian, and many others.
Blachly’s work on The Prison began in 2015. He is the editor for the new Wise Music Group critical edition that has not only made modern performances and this recording possible, but has contributed to a new wave of interest in Smyth's work throughout the music world. This is the first-ever Grammy Award for music by Smyth, who lived from 1858-1944 and struggled her entire career to have her music judged on its merits rather than on the basis of her gender.
In 2022, he held a week-long artist residency at Montclair State University featuring composer in residence Jessie Montgomery, where he taught courses on composition, conducting, choral techniques, and delivered several keynote lectures, culminating in an Experiential Orchestra-style immersive performance. At the invitation of founder Charles Dickerson, he assisted in curating a concert celebrating works for orchestra by African Diaspora composers, and was one of six conductors to lead the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles at the League of American Orchestras conference.
In 2016, Blachly was the only conductor from the U.S. invited to participate in the Young Conductor’s Showcase as a part of El Sistema’s 40th Anniversary celebration, and he was also the only U.S. conductor to be invited as Conducting Fellow in Maestra Marin Alsop's final year at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. In addition to the New York Philharmonic, recent guest conducting engagements include the Williamsburg Symphony, Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic, Malaysian Philharmonic, Spokane Symphony, Portland Symphony (ME), Danbury Symphony, and Odyssey Opera (Boston), as well as performances at Trinity Church Wall Street, Roulette, National Sawdust, Carnegie Hall, and Lincoln Center.
A strong supporter of composers of our time, Blachly has commissioned and premiered more than 40 works by composers including Jessie Montgomery, Courtney Bryan, Viet Cuong, Michi Wiancko, Kate Copeland Ettinger, Tommy Daugherty, Patrick Castillo, Brad and Doug Balliett, and many others. In recent seasons, he has collaborated with soloists Paul Jacobs, Michelle Cann, Charles Yang, Julia Bullock, Dashon Burton, Helga Davis, Sarah Brailey, Andrés Cárdenes, Michael Chioldi, Karen Kim, Andrew Yee, and more.
In 2020, Blachly was invited to serve as the Associate Editor and Orchestral Liaison for the African Diaspora Music Project, directed by Dr. Louise Toppin. In that capacity, he has overseen the compilation of a database and website detailing more than 1,300 published works for orchestra by African diaspora composers.
Dedicated to finding new ways of empowering audiences, Blachly is in demand as a speaker on Listening as Leadership, bringing his expertise as a conductor and passion for music to Fortune 500 companies, schools, and other organizations. He has also conducted dozens of educational concerts for thousands of school children. For ten years he conducted workshops and clinics for the New York Philharmonic, served as Ensemble Director for the Baltimore Symphony’s OrchKids program, and conducted clinics and appearances throughout western Pennsylvania for the JSO. From 2010 to 2015, he performed benefit concerts of Mahler symphonies with New York freelancers to launch what is now Make Music NOLA, a thriving El Sistema-Inspired program in New Orleans.
Also active as a composer, James Blachly studied at Mannes with Robert Cuckson and privately with Charles Wuorinen and John Corigliano. His compositions have been celebrated as “vigorous and assured” by Chamber Music America, and a “splendidly crafted…tour de force” by the Miami Herald, and have been performed at The Stone, Zankel Hall, in Europe and across the U.S., in an audience for the Pope, and broadcast live on the CBC.
Photo by Allison Stock
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