American conductor Emil de Cou is the music director of the Pacific Northwest Ballet and appears regularly with orchestras across the country. After his debut with the National Symphony Orchestra in 2000, he joined the orchestra as associate conductor and led the NSO on national tours and at the U.S. Capitol Building.
He has remained a regular figure at the Kennedy Center since his first performances there in 1988. For 15 years, he was the principal conductor for the NSO’s Wolf Trap performances. His innovative concerts there have included the world premiere screenings of “The Wizard of Oz” with the score performed by live orchestra, the first-ever live-tweeted program notes (for Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony) and a live, in real-time podcast for a concert called “Fantastic Planet.” In 2006, he led the NSO in the Wolf Trap premiere of NASA’s images with Holst’s The Planets, narrated by Leonard Nimoy, and in 2008, he conducted the first performance of “Rodgers & Hammerstein at the Movies.”
As a musical consultant for National Aeronautics and Space Administration, he has conducted several successful collaborations, including “Human Spaceflight: The Kennedy Legacy,” at the Kennedy Center in honor of the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s declaration to land a man on the moon. Before the performance of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Wolf Trap hosted a pre-performance discussion to mark the 45th anniversary of the moon landing, which featured astronaut Buzz Aldrin, NASA administrator Charlie Bolden and de Cou in a talk about the arts and space exploration. De Cou led the NSO in three performances co-produced by the Kennedy Center and NASA to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
De Cou was hired by Mikhail Baryshnikov to conduct the American Ballet Theatre for eight seasons, with performances at Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center, as well as on national and international tours. His performance of the ballet Othello was aired on “Great Performances” (PBS). The soundtrack by Academy Award-winning composer Elliot Goldenthal was recorded by de Cou for Varèse Sarabande; among his other recordings is “Debussy Rediscovered” for Arabesque, which includes previously unrecorded works by the French composer.
De Cou has appeared with some of the country's leading orchestras such as those of Philadelphia, Cleveland and Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Houston, Milwaukee, Minnesota, St. Louis and the Boston Pops. He made his Carnegie Hall debut in 2006 with the New York Pops Orchestra and was the principal pops conductor for the San Francisco Symphony.
Born in Los Angeles, de Cou studied with Daniel Lewis at the University of Southern California and was chosen to study in Leonard Bernstein’s master class at the Hollywood Bowl. For his ongoing work with NASA, de Cou was awarded the agency’s Exceptional Public Achievement Medal by administrator Charlie Bolden, the first musician to be so honored. He makes his home in San Francisco and Seattle with his husband, conductor Leif Bjaland.
Please note: Biographies are based on information provided to the CSO by the artists or their representatives. More current information may be available on websites of the artists or their management.