Maestro James Blachly

James Blachly is a conductor dedicated to artistic excellence and broader accessibility. He currently serves as Music Director of the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra, Music Director of the Experiential Orchestra, and Music Director of Geneva Light Opera.

Blachly’s innovative programming aims to increase audience engagement and empower audiences. With the Johnstown Symphony, the orchestra has performed in a former steel mill in a performance featured on Katie Couric’s America Inside Out; with the Experiential Orchestra, he has 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 Petrouchka with circus choreography in an ongoing collaboration with The Muse in Brooklyn.

A strong supporter of composers of our time, he has commissioned and premiered more than 40 works from composers such as Jessie Montgomery, Courtney Bryan, Kate Copeland Ettinger, Patrick Castillo, Viet Cuong, Brad and Doug Balliett, Matthew Browne, and many others. Dedicated to finding new ways of empowering audiences, he is also 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.

In 2015, he was the only conductor from the US invited to participate in the Young Conductor’s Showcase as a part of El Sistema’s 40th Anniversary celebration in Venezuela, and he was also the only US conductor to be invited as Conducting Fellow in Maestra Marin Alsop's final year at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. Recent guest conducting engagements include NOVUS NY, Spokane Symphony, Danbury Symphony, Odyssey Opera (Boston), Illinois Modern Ensemble, and performances at Roulette, National Sawdust, Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. He has served as record producer for more than 10 commercial albums and collaborated with Madonna as guest conductor for the Clarion Music Society’s chorus of 40 men in preparation for her performance at the 2018 Met Gala.

In order to facilitate US orchestras to expand the repertoire they perform to more fully represent the audiences they serve, he is the co-founder of the OMBC Foundation, a comprehensive online resource for the orchestral music of black composers. In 2015 he co-founded The Dream Unfinished, an orchestra focused on social justice. He is proud to be named as editor for the Schirmer/MusicSales edition of Dame Ethel Smyth’s career-culminating masterpiece, The Prison, which he will record with the Experiential Orchestra in September 2018.

Mr. Blachly believes in the power of music to impact society. From 2010 to 2015, he founded and conducted the New York City Summer Mahler Project, performing Mahler symphonies with New York freelancers in benefit concerts for El Sistema-Inspired programs in New York and New Orleans. Steve Smith, writing for the New York Times, praised his performance of Mahler 4 by saying “Mr. Blachly’s interpretation had a subtle elasticity” and his “thoughtful conception was admirable.” 

Dedicated to music education, Mr. Blachly is the co-founder of Make Music NOLA, a thriving El Sistema-Inspired program in New Orleans. He regularly conducts workshops and clinics for the New York Philharmonic, and served as Ensemble Director for the Baltimore Symphony’s OrchKids program. He studied with Donald Schleicher and trained with Larry Rachleff, and served as the Zander Fellow for the Boston Philharmonic.

Also active as a composer, he studied at Mannes with Robert Cuckson, as well as 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 Tribune, and have been performed at The Stone, Zankel Hall, in Europe and across the US, in an audience for the Pope, and broadcast live on the CBC. 

James was born in New York City to a family of musicians and teachers. He was concertmaster of his youth orchestra and performed as a child actor off Broadway and at City Opera, notably with Julie Taymor and Richard Foreman. After graduating from Oberlin, he returned to New York, working as a freelance musician and touring internationally as a bassist and singer before training in conducting. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife Rebecca and their two cats, Roger and Cleo. In his off-stage time, he enjoys exercise, literature, good food, and conversation.