Sylvain Cambreling is one of the leading French operatic conductors. He is known for his often startling innovations in many opera productions: in a performance of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro at the 2001 Salzburg Festival he employed a synthesizer to deliver recitative accompaniments, and at a performance of Janácek's Katya Kabanova, he used some of the composer's songs as transitional material between acts. Cambreling also conducts orchestral concerts on a regular basis, and here as well he imparts imaginative touches to the programming: his concert bills might well mix disparate composers like Haydn and Messiaen or present a colorful assortment of traditional and contemporary works. Cambreling has made many recordings for a variety of labels, including EMI, Hanssler, Orfeo D'or, and others.
Cambreling was born in Amiens, France, on July 2, 1948. At the Paris Conservatory he studied trombone; in 1971 he was taken on as trombonist with the Lyons Symphony Orchestra, but was already preparing for a career in conducting via his studies with conductor/composer Pierre Dervaux. Cambreling won second prize at the 1974 Besançon International Conducting Competition.
In 1975 he debuted as a conductor with the Lyons Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Schumann's Scenes from Goethe's Faust. That same year he accepted a post at the Lyons Opera as an assistant to music director Serge Baudo. Cambreling's operatic debut also came in that watershed year of 1975 in a performance of Rossini's La Cenerentola.
Cambreling began working with Pierre Boulez in 1976, leading many performances of the latter's Ensemble InterContemporain. From 1981-1991 Cambreling served as music director of the Theatre de la Monnaie, Brussels. There he conducted a broad range of operatic repertory to generally favorable response, in the end advancing the reputation of the company. At the Frankfurt Opera he served as music director and artistic director from 1993-1997.
From 1999-2011 Cambreling was chief conductor of the SWR Baden-Baden und Freiburg Sinfonieorchester. Continuing to server as principal guest conductor of Klangforum Wien, his next appointment was conductor of the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra (2011), and beginning in the 2012-2013 season, general music director of the Stuttgart State Opera. Cambreling appears regularly at the Paris National Opera leading a variety of compelling performances, including Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges, Messiaen's St. François d'Assisse, and Mozart's Don Giovanni.
Among Cambreling's more notable recordings include the 1999 Katya Kabanova on Orfeo D'or; the 2004 album of Debussy's Images, Danses, and La Mer; and the 2008 box set of Messiaen, both on Hanssler Classics.