Cincinnati May Festival announces programming for 2021

The Cincinnati May Festival has announced program details and artists for the 2021 festival. Five performances will take place at the Cincinnati Music Hall between May 21 and 30, 2021. The chief conductor Juanjo Mena will conduct two performances of two separate programs for a total of four concerts with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, vocal soloists and members of the May Festival Chorus. The choir director Robert Porco will conduct a concert with the CSO and the vocal soloists. Almost every work programmed will be a festival premiere, and many of the soloists, Sara Couden, Elliot Madore, Sophia Burgos, Sasha Cooke, Davóne Tines and Joélle Harvey will make their debut at the May Festival.

“It is an emotional time as we are taking our first steps to get back together,” said Juanjo Mena, chief conductor of the May Festival. “My heart has never been so full of hope and optimism. I can’t think of a better way to connect and express the complex emotions we all feel through voices that are raised together in the song. This May we will be Discover the voice in everything: From challenge and sadness to hope, joy and triumph – this will truly be a music festival that speaks in our time. “

In addition to the concerts, the May Festival Youth Choir will not be physically represented in the Music Hall this year, but they will attend the premiere of a new collaborative project commissioned by composer Robert Busiakiewicz and digital designer Stacey Fox. sing / everything, inspired by the writings of Gertrude Stein, invites the listener to change the musical work via an innovative online platform. Members of the youth choir recorded “modules” or “tracks” individually in March, and Fox used the modules to build a web-based immersive digital environment. Singing / everything will be available on During the festival.

2021 Cincinnati May Festival

Juanjo Mena, main driver

Robert Porco, choirmaster

open weekend

Friday, May 21, 2021, 7.30 p.m.

Saturday, May 22, 2021, 7:30 p.m.

Juanjo Mena, driver

May Festival Choir Tenor and Bass Ensemble

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

Sara Couden, alt

Elliot Madore, baritone

Anton Bruckner Adagio from the string quintet WAB 112

Orchestra transcription: Stanislaw Skrowaczewski

Julia Perry Stabat Mater

Gustav Mahler Songs of a Traveling Journeyman (“Songs of a Wayfarer”)

Arr. Arnold Schoenberg

Gustav Holst Selected choir hymns from the Rig Veda

Fourth group H.100

Julia Perry’s Stabat Mater is an emotionally powerful setting of the traditional Catholic text that penetrates the deeply human suffering and ultimate healing of Mary during the crucifixion. Mahler composed his own lyrics for his Songs of a Wayfarer, which depict lost love, beauty, despair and determination. Members of the May Festival Chorus play Holst’s settings for tenors and basses with sacred Sanskrit text from the Rig Veda.

Voice and verse

Friday, May 28, 2021, 7.30 p.m.

Robert Porco, conductor

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano

Sophia Burgos, soprano

Davóne Tines, baritone

Aaron Copland Eight Poems by Emily Dickinson

Maria Schneider Winter morning walks

John Adams the wound dresser

Poems by Emily Dickinson, Ted Kooser and Walt Whitman provide the text and inspiration for three famous American composers whose works express the range of emotions evoked by the pandemic. Aaron Copland’s setting of Dickinson poems suggests isolation. Maria Schneider’s Winter Morning Walks (the recording of which won two Grammy awards) follow Kooser’s path to well-being after cancer treatment. And Whitman’s The Wound-Dresser looks back on his time as a young medic during the Civil War, a poignant tribute to the love and service of healthcare workers.

Hearts and voices rise

Saturday, May 29, 2021, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, May 30, 2021, 2:30 p.m.

Juanjo Mena, driver

May Festival Chorus Soprano and Alto Ensemble

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

Joélle Harvey, soprano

Paul Appleby, tenor

Gustav Mahler Adagietto from the 5th Symphony

Benjamin Britten The Illuminations

Schubert Night and Dreams D.827 (Arr. Reger)

D.343 (Arr. Reger) Group from Tartarus D.583 (Arr. Reger) Der Erlkönig (Arr. Berlioz) H136

Gustav Holst Selected choir hymns from the Rig Veda

Second group H. 98

Reena Esmail I Rise: Women in Song

The Beauty of Her Dreams (Eleanor Roosevelt)

River Song (Arlene Geller)

The CSO gave the American premiere of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, and the heartbreaking Adagietto movement opens this program. Extensive verses and prose by the French poet Arthur Rimbaud provide the text for Britten’s Les Illuminations song cycle, which is sung here by Joélle Harvey. Paul Appleby sings four Schubert songs with orchestrations by Max Reger and Hector Berlioz. In addition to the opening weekend, members of the May Festival Chorus Holsts offer Rig Veda hymns for the upper voices. The festival culminates in two movements from the song cycle I Rise: Women in Song by the Indian-American composer Reena Esmail for female choir and chamber orchestra, inspired by women authors whose words, thoughts and actions have shaped our world.

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Among other things, in accordance with state and CDC safety protocols, the in-person concerts and events will last 60 to 90 minutes non-stop, and audience capacity will be significantly reduced by physically distant seating. Vocal soloists, members of the May Festival Chorus, and instrumentalists of the CSO also maintain physical distance required by the American Federation of Musicians and other recommendations from infectious disease specialists. Choir members are masked at all times, as are string instrumentalists and conductors. Vocal soloists and wind and brass instrumentalists are masked when they are not actively performing. The festival continuously monitors the COVID situation and adjusts capacities and plans if state restrictions fluctuate.


As part of the festival’s ongoing commitment to accessibility, the performances will be streamed live on Saturday May 22nd and Sunday May 30th and are available 24 hours for FREE on


Subscriptions for two or three concerts will be available from March 29th. Single tickets go on sale May 3rd and start at $ 15. Due to COVID restrictions, the seating capacity is severely limited.


Guaranteed prepaid parking is available to all ticket buyers at the Washington Park Garage starting March 29 ($ 15 / concert).




Juanjo Mena, one of Spain’s most respected international conductors, is Chief Conductor of the Cincinnati May Festival and Deputy Conductor of the Spanish National Orchestra. He was chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, artistic director of the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, chief guest conductor of the Orchester del Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa and chief guest conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. As a guest at international festivals, he has appeared at the Stars of White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Hollywood Bowl, Grant Park (Chicago), Tanglewood and La Folle Journée (Nantes). He has made several recordings with the BBC Philharmonic, including recent releases of Arriaga’s orchestral works, Ginastera’s orchestral works for the composer’s 100th birthday, three CDs of works by Manuel De Falla, including his opera “La Vida Breve”, a publication by Gabriel Pierné a Gramophone Editor’s Choice and works by Albéniz, Montsalvatge, Weber and Turina, which have received excellent reviews from the specialist music press. Future highlights include Mena’s return to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra, as well as his debut with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.


Since 1989, the choir director Robert Porco has led the May Festival Chorus in inspired collaboration and making music, which “shook” the rafters when the choir performed at Carnegie Hall in 2014. “Carnegie has rarely felt this alive,” says The New Yorker. Robert Porco is recognized as one of the leading choral musicians in the USA and has been an active preparer and conductor of choral and orchestral works, including most of the great choral repertoire and opera, for more than 40 years.


Matthew Swanson is the assistant choir director and director of the youth choir at the Cincinnati May Festival. In this role, he directs the youth choir in an active series of concerts in the greater Cincinnati area and their annual appearances at the May Festival. He has prepared the May Festival Chorus for performances with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Cincinnati Pops at the Cincinnati Music Hall and Riverbend Music Center. In addition to his artistic duties, Mr. Swanson directs public, education and engagement activities for the May Festival.


The May Festival Chorus has gained recognition locally, nationally and internationally for its musicality, broad repertoire and sheer sound power. The choir of 130 professionally trained singers is the core artistic element of the Cincinnati May Festival as well as the official choir of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Cincinnati Pops. During a typical season, the choir members together devote more than 40,000 hours of rehearsals and performances.


The youth choir of the May Festival connects, inspires and trains young people by studying and performing choral music. Since it was founded in 1987, the youth choir has performed annually at the May Festival to perform masterpieces from the choral repertoire with the May Festival Choir, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and internationally renowned conductors and soloists. In addition, the choir presents its own concert series and works with cultural institutions and organizations in the greater Cincinnati area.

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