James Bagwell maintains an active international schedule as a conductor of choral, operatic, and orchestral music. He was recently named associate conductor and academic director of The Orchestra Now (TON) and was appointed principal guest conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra in 2009. He has led both ensembles in concerts at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. He served as music director of The Collegiate Chorale from 2009-2015. Highlights included conducting rarely performed operas at Carnegie Hall, including Bellini’s Beatrice di Tenda, Rossini’s Möise et Pharaon, and Boito’s Mefistofele. He conducted the New York premiere of Philip Glass’s Toltec Symphony and Osvaldo Golijov’s Oceana at Carnegie Hall. His performance of Kurt Weill’s Knickerbocker Holiday at Alice Tully Hall was recorded live for Gaslight Records and is the only complete recording of the work. He has collaborated since 2011 with singer and composer Natalie Merchant, conducting orchestras across the country, including the San Francisco and Seattle Symphonies. Other recent performances include Glass’s Another Look at Harmony at the Park Avenue Armory and leading the Little Opera Theatre of New York’s production of Rossini’s Opportunity Makes the Thief. In November 2021 he made his debut with Teatro Grattacielo conducting Mascagni’s rarely heard opera L’Amico Fritz in addition to conducting Duruflé’s Requiem with the Westminster Symphonic Choir. Past highlights with TON have included a production of Bernstein’s Candide, Florence Price’s Second Symphony, Jennifer Higdon’s blue cathedral, and Sarah Hennies Falling Together.
He is a regular guest conductor for The Tulsa Symphony, most recently leading them in performances of Mozart’s Requiem and Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem. In November 2018, he returned to Tulsa to conduct Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. In 2011 and 2012 he conducted the Amici New York Orchestra at the OK Mozart Festival and in December 2014 made his second appearance with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in a highly acclaimed performance of Handel’s Messiah. He frequently appears as guest conductor for orchestras around the country and abroad, including the Jerusalem Symphony, the Interlochen Music Festival, and the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra.
A noted preparer of choruses, Bagwell recently prepared The Concert Chorale of New York for performances of Bernstein’s Kaddish Symphony for the New York Philharmonic and returned in January 2019 to prepare Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem for Jaap Van Zweeden’s inaugural season as The Philharmonic’s Music Director. In January 2020 he collaborated with the New York Philharmonic preparing Mozart’s Mass in C-minor. In 2018 he prepared The Concert Chorale for performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and prepared two concerts, including Bernstein’s Mass for the Mostly Mozart Festival. As Chorus Master for The American Symphony Orchestra, he received top accolades for his work on Luigi Nono’s Intolleranza at Carnegie Hall. The New York Classical Review stated “The Bard singers, under the direction of James Bagwell, were a highlight of and an authoritative presence throughout, projecting Nono’s fractured, eerie voicings and wailing walls of sound with confidence from their station behind the orchestra. More than the instrumentalists and most of the vocal soloists, or the conductor, Bagwell’s choir gave this allegorical beast much of its galvanizing force.” In July 2022 he will prepare Taneyev’s At the Reading of a Psalm for the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
Bagwell has trained choruses for numerous American and international orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, NHK Symphony (Japan), St. Petersburg Symphony, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, American Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. He has worked with such noted conductors as Jaap Van Zweeden, Charles Dutoit, Andris Nelsons, Alan Gilbert, Gianandrea Noseda, Valery Gergiev, Yannik Nézet-Séguin, Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti, Lorin Maazel, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Michael Tilson Thomas, Louis Langrée, Leonard Slatkin, Leon Botstein, Ivan Fischer, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Raymond Leppard, James Conlon, Jesús López-Cobos, Erich Kunzel, Leon Fleischer, and Robert Shaw.
Bagwell prepared The Collegiate Chorale for numerous concerts at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland and for programs with The Israel Philharmonic in Israel and the Salzburg Festival. He has also prepared The Concert Chorale of New York for performances with the American Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Mostly Mozart Festival (broadcast nationally on Live from Lincoln Center)—all in David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center. Since 2003 he has been director of choruses for the Bard Music Festival, conducting and preparing choral works during the summer festival at The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College. In August 2022 he will conduct Rachmaninov’s Vespers for the festival in addition to preparing Strauss’s Die Schweigsame Frau for the 2022 Bard Summerscape Festival. For the Bard Vocal Arts Program, Bagwell most recently conducted Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen.
Bagwell conducted some twenty-five productions as music director of Light Opera Oklahoma, including Bernstein’s Candide, Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, and Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow, among others. At Bard Summerscape, he has led various theatrical works, most notably Copland’s The Tender Land, which received glowing praise from The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Opera News. From 2005-2010 he was music director of The Dessoff Choirs in New York, who under his leadership made numerous appearances at Carnegie Hall in addition to their regular season. He holds degrees from Birmingham-Southern College, Florida State University, and Indiana University. Bagwell is Professor of Music at Bard College and Director of Performance Studies in the Bard College Conservatory of Music. He serves as co-director with Leon Botstein at the Graduate Conductor Program, one of the leading institutions for the training of orchestral and choral conductors.