Like so many conductors today, Ivor Bolton has established a parallel career as a soloist, in his case, as a harpsichordist. On the podium, he is better known in the opera house, particularly for his incisive interpretations of Baroque operas by Handel, Purcell, and others, as well as later operas by Mozart, Bellini, and Rossini. His orchestral repertory, though also divulging a bias for early music, extends into the Romantic and modern periods, encompassing works by Mendelssohn, Brahms, Franz Berwald, Bruckner, Malcolm Arnold, and James MacMillan. As a harpsichordist, Bolton has garnered acclaim, particularly for his performances (and recording) of J.S. Bach's harpsichord concertos.
Bolton was born in Blackrod, Lancashire, England, on May 17, 1958. He studied music at Cambridge University (Clare College) and the Royal College of Music in London. After graduation, he added a further year of study at the National Opera Studio in London. During that year, he earned his first important post, as the conductor of the chamber choir Schola Cantorum of Oxford University. In 1984, Bolton founded an instrumental ensemble, the St. James Baroque Players. Under his leadership, the group grew in stature and produced a number of popular recordings, including the 1996 Charpentier Te Deum on Teldec. Bolton stepped down as the music director in 2005 and was succeeded by James O'Donnell. He served as the music director of the English Touring Opera for one season (1991-1992).
In 1982, Bolton began a long association with the Glyndebourne Festival, eventually becoming the music director of the company's touring opera for five seasons beginning in 1992. During his tenure with the Glyndebourne Touring Opera, Bolton made several important operatic debuts, including at the Bavarian State Opera (1994) and Covent Garden (1995). He was also busy in the strictly instrumental world, serving as the principal conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (1994-1996). In the new century, Bolton has been just as active. From 2004-2016, he was the conductor of the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg, serving as conductor laureate since 2016. He has been busy at the major operatic venues, including the 2004 Salzburg Festival (with Anna Netrebko singing Giulietta in Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi). Bolton also expanded his opera repertoire by conducting Britten's Billy Budd during the 2010-2011 season at De Nederlandse Opera. He has been the chief conductor of the Dresden Festival Orchestra since 2012, and in 2015, he became the artistic director of the Teatro Real in Madrid and was named the next chief conductor of the Basel Symphony Orchestra, beginning with the 2016-2017 season.