John Wilton Nelson


Honorary Degree (1987)
Doctor of Music
Location: Bloomington
Presenter: John William Ryan


John Nelson is widely regarded as one of the foremost orchestral and choral conductors of his generation. He has been invited to conduct many of the most prominent orchestras in the United States and Europe, and has received international acclaim for his interpretive brilliance.

As music director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra since 1976, Mr. Nelson has brought the orchestra to new heights of artistic excellence. Under his leadership over the past decade, the Indianapolis Symphony has risen rapidly to the forefront of American orchestras, and has gained national acclaim in appearances at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, as well as on Public Broadcasting System telecasts with Beverly Sills and Andre Watts, and coast-to-coast broadcasts of National Public Radio. Under Maestro Nelson, the Indianapolis Symphony released two albums of the works of American composers Charles Martin Loeffler and Pulitzer Prize¬winner Ellen Taaffe Zwilich.

With energy and personal commitment, John Nelson has contributed to the enrichment of the cultural community of Indianapolis, and exerts an important influence on the quality of music in the entire state. He has shared the finest music with thousands of citizens, offering a cultural experience that has a continuing impact on the life of Indiana.

Mr. Nelson has long given his invaluable artistic support to the encouragement and nurturing of new and innovative contemporary American music. As a teacher and mentor, he is a source of inspiration for young musicians in Indiana and elsewhere. He has formed a close association with the Indiana University School of Music, and has afforded many Indiana University students superb performing opportunities as singers, instrumentalists, and conductors in Indianapolis and throughout the world. Mr. Nelson has served as a visiting professor and has conducted several orchestra concerts at the school. Through his efforts, the Woodwind Quintet of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra was established with in-residence status at the University's campus at Indianapolis. The performances of the Quintet have delighted large audiences of students, faculty, staff, and Indianapolis patrons.

John Nelson earned the Bachelor of Music from Wheaton College in 1963, receiving awards in both piano and composition. He was a teaching fellow at The Juilliard School, where in 1965 he was awarded the Master of Music and in 1967 the postgraduate Diploma in Conducting. He received the Irving Berlin award in conducting at Juilliard and joined the orchestral conducting faculty in 1968, remaining on the faculty until 1972. In 1978 and 1979 he was awarded honorary degrees from Anderson College, DePauw University, Butler University, and MacMurray College. Mr. Nelson's brilliance and his diverse talents were recognized very early in his career, and his leadership has been sought by a variety of musical organizations. From 1968 to 1973 he was director of the Aspen Choral Institute, and from 1965 to 1975 he was music director of the Pro Arte Chorale and Orchestra. He conducted the 1967 New York Mozart Festival and in 1968 directed the Juilliard Opera Theatre.

From 1966 to 1974, he served the Greenwich Philharmonia in New York City as music director. He conducted the New York City Opera from 1973 to 1975, as well as the Santa Fe Opera in 1973 and the Geneva Grand Theatre in 1974. He has been a conductor of the Metropolitan Opera since 1974, and has completed several seasons as music director of the Caramoor Festival in Katonah, New York. He is currently music director of the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, and has served as adviser to the Louisville and Nashville symphony orchestras.

Among the prominent North American orchestras that Mr. Nelson has conducted are the New York Philharmonic and the orchestras of Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburgh, Washington, Atlanta, Detroit, Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Montreal, and Vancouver. He has enjoyed particularly long associations with the San Francisco Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony, the Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique of Paris, the Orchestre National de Lyon, and the Orchestra of St. Lukes in New York.

In Europe his orchestral engagements also have included the Royal Philharmonic, the Czech Philharmonic, l'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Stockholm Philharmonic, the Oslo Philharmonic, the Halle Orchestra, the Scottish National Orchestra, and l'Orchestre National de France.
Mr. Nelson's unique talent unites excellence in choral conducting with excellence in orchestral conducting. Through this combination, and through the genius of his musical perceptions, he has achieved worldwide renown for his interpretation of oratorios, in particular those of Bach and Berlioz.

During his long and outstanding tenure with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, John Nelson has brought to Indianapolis and to Indiana the professionalism that informs his worldwide stature, and by this quality he has lifted the orchestra to a new stature of its own in the world of music.