• Born 1943
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Alun Francis is one of the most respected conductors on the international scene, and is particularly admired for his efforts in bringing international recognition to several great tonal symphonists active in the post-World War II years, and for other efforts on behalf of 20th century music.
His "native" instrument is the French horn. He continued his studies on that instrument and took conducting while attending the Royal Manchester College of Music from 1960 to 1963. His first professional jobs were as an orchestral horn player with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester under Sir John Barbirolli's leadership, and with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, with Constantin Silvestri as conductor.
He began looking for conducting opportunities at this time and by 1966 began an association with the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast, rising from short appointments as assistant conductor and associate conductor to becoming music director in 1969. While there, he became a conductor and artistic director of the Northern Ireland Opera, serving in that post from 1974 to 1984.
He ended these associations in 1970 after 10 years, becoming music director of the Northwest Chamber Orchestra in Seattle, Washington, from 1980 to 1985. Following that, he was conductor and music advisor to the Overiijssels Philharmonic Orchestra and the Opera Forum of Netherlands from 1985 to 1987.
Francis was principal conductor and general music director of the North West German Philharmonic and in 1989 received the appointment as principal conductor of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. Following a contract extension in 1996, he remained with the Berlin Symphony through 2000. Meanwhile, he became principal conductor of the Orchestra Sinfonica Haydn of Bolzano, Italy, and in 1996 was appointed artistic director of the Orchestra Sinfonica de Milano "Giuseppe Verdi." Since 2008, he has led Mexico City's Orquesta Filarmonica de la UNAM.
Among the orchestras with which he has guest conducted are the BBC Philharmonic, the Philharmonia, the five major orchestras of London, and the rest of the major orchestras of Britain, the RAI (Italian Radio) Orchestra of Torino, the Cologne RSO, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, the Frankfurt RSO, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, and several other major European and American orchestras.
Francis' 20th century performances include the avant-garde composers such as Stockhausen and Berio as well as major and once-neglected symphonic composers of the post-War era such as Ernst Toch, Allan Pettersson, Darius Milhaud, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, and Casella. He received the MIDEM 2000 "Premiere Prize" at the Cannes Classical Awards for recording the complete symphonies of Milhaud on the cpo label.
While known as a proponent of 20th century orchestral music, as an active opera conductor he prefers to focus on the bel canto era (roughly the time from Rossini's debut through the early works of Verdi). He has 50 bel canto operas in his repertory, and in 1978 led the world premiere of the Donizetti opera Gabriella di Vergy. He records opera for the label Opera Rara, and for them and other companies he has taped recordings of Donizetti's Maria Padilla and Ugo, conte di Parigi and Offenbach's operettas Christopher Columbus and Robinson Crusoe. Another notable operatic engagement was his conducting Verdi's Rigoletto in staging directed by Roman Polanski.
In all, Francis estimates that he has conducted more than 150 orchestras and opera companies in 26 different companies so far in his conducting career.