Geoffrey McDonald

Geoffrey McDonald (he/him) is a dynamic presence at the forefront of America’s contemporary opera scene, known for his “original and flexible musical imagination” (Observer) as well as his confident technical command on the podium. Described by The New York Times as “an agile conductor…whose pacing is sure in both reflective and restless passages,” critics and audiences alike have lauded McDonald’s musical sensitivity across an uncommonly wide range of repertoire, as well as his ability to build and maintain dramatic intensity over the course of an opera. A committed advocate and trusted interpreter of new opera, he has led workshops and world premieres of operas for leading companies, such as Washington National Opera and Opera Philadelphia, working with prominent composers, including Jennifer Higdon, Kevin Puts, Missy Mazzoli, Nico Muhly, Lembit Beecher, Carlos Simon, Gregory Spears, and Kamala Sankaram, among others. 

In the fall of the 2022-23 season, McDonald returns to Toledo Opera to conduct a double bill of Suor Angelica/Cavalleria Rusticana and rejoins the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia for a concert of baroque music featuring countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen. As Music Director of New York City’s On Site Opera (OSO), a ground-breaking company that has earned the adulation of opera veterans and new audiences, he will lead two productions, including a revival of their critically acclaimed staging of Amahl and the Night Visitors

Highlights from the 2021-2022 season include Grace McClean’s In the Green at Mannes Opera, On Site Opera’s immersive production of Gianni Schicchi, a performance of new works by Robert Patterson and Herschel Garfein for Mostly Modern Projects, and a return to Wolf Trap Opera for a production of L’Amant anonyme (Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges/Desfontaines after Mme. de Genlis).

Having conducted the world premiere of Sky on Swings (Beecher/Moscovitch) at Opera Philadelphia, McDonald will return to lead the world premiere of Woman with Eyes Closed (Higdon/Dye) (COVID19 – rescheduled for 2024). Other highlights from past seasons include Flight at Minnesota Opera, Hänsel und Gretel at Opera Saratoga, Idomeneo at Wolf Trap Opera, La finta giardiniera at Atlanta Opera, Elizabeth Cree at Chicago Opera Theatre, and Sweeney Todd with Curtis Opera Theatre. 

At home as a performer/arranger of contemporary, traditional, popular, and historically informed instrumental performance, McDonald is adept at forging new paths that incorporate elements of each. Since joining New York City’s On Site Opera in 2015 as the company’s first Music Director, he has demonstrated a unique ability to marshal performances of the highest musical standard in a variety of immersive settings. As Observer’s review of OSO’s Barber of Seville described it, “Geoffrey McDonald repeated the miracle of nuanced coordination between orchestra and singers he recently accomplished with Orlando downtown.” Of other recent OSO performances, The New York Times noted, “Geoffrey McDonald drew stylish, nimble playing”, elsewhere admiring his “grace and verve”, while Opera News has praised his “sensitivity and control.”

He has appeared as guest conductor with the National Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, International Contemporary Ensemble, Gotham Chamber Opera, American Symphony Orchestra, Bard Festival Players, Theater und Orchester Neubrandenburg/Neustrelitz, West Bohemian Symphony Orchestra, and historical instrument ensemble Grand Harmonie. 

In addition to professional opera performance, McDonald has an impressive record as an engaging conductor-educator, having served as Music Director of the Longy Conservatory Orchestra in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Bard College Orchestra, the Philadelphia Young Artists Orchestra, and the Columbia University Bach Society. He remains a committed advocate of music education and audience outreach and, to that end, is currently working toward a Ph.D. in music psychology at the University for Music in Freiburg, Germany, with a focus on audience impressions of time and musical coherence in the classical repertoire.

McDonald earned his master’s in orchestral conducting at Mannes College of Music, where he studied with David Hayes, and was the recipient of the Alma Askin Scholarship, the Felix Salzer Techniques of Music Award, and the Mannes Theory Essay Prize. He has received additional instruction and mentorship from Neeme Järvi, Paavo Järvi, Leif Segerstam, Leonid Grin, and Sir Gilbert Levine, whom he assisted on PBS-televised productions of Bruckner’s 9th Symphony and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. He studied conducting with Michael Pratt at Princeton University and, upon earning his bachelor’s degree (Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa), was awarded the inaugural Edward T. Cone Memorial Prize for excellence in combining music scholarship and performance. 

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