The Cincinnati May Festival announces the program details for the 2018 Festival to take place in the newly renovated Music Hall, May 18-26, 2018. This will be the debut Festival for Principal Conductor Juanjo Mena, whose appointment was announced in October 2016. The 2018 May Festival also welcomes Dr. Rollo Dilworth (a Temple University-based conductor, composer and champion of choral music) as the Creative Partner as part of a recently re-imagined artistic model, which also includes Director of Choruses Robert Porco. The May Festival, featuring the May Festival Chorus and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO), is programmed to inspire audiences with fresh collaborations while also drawing on its rich tradition as Cincinnati’s longest running arts organization. Cincinnati’s Music Hall, which re-opened in October 2017 after a $143 million renovation, was originally built for the May Festival in 1878.
“It is an honor to serve as the May Festival’s Principal Conductor—to be gifted this opportunity to make unforgettable music together with the voices of Cincinnati’s community,” said Juanjo Mena. “We are all thrilled to bring the May Festival home to Music Hall after the spectacular renovation.” Mr. Mena will direct two of the Festival’s four concert programs. He has invited James Levine, one of the world’s preeminent conductors, a Cincinnati native and former May Festival Music Director, to make a welcome return visit, for the first time since 2005. Robert Porco, Director of Choruses, will also conduct. The programming for the 2018 May Festival places a special emphasis on the works of 1973 Honorary May Festival Music Director Leonard Bernstein, whose centennial is being celebrated around the world in 2018. In addition to the four main May Festival concerts at Music Hall, the May Festival Chamber Choir will perform at the exquisite Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky on April 22. A community event on May 20 at Music Hall, “Sing Hallelujah Cincinnati,” curated by Dr. Dilworth, will bring together singers from around the community in a unifying experience that harkens back to the city’s early history of choral singing that inspired the building of Music Hall.
May Festival Opening Night – Friday, May 18, 2018 (8 p.m.)
James Levine, who served as Music Director of the May Festival from 1974 to 1978, returns to conduct Verdi’s epic Requiem. Longtime Music Director of The Metropolitan Opera, Mr. Levine was born and raised in Cincinnati and graduated from Walnut Hills High School. He is now widely considered one of the foremost conductors in the world and regularly leads some of the classical music’s most distinguished ensembles. Verdi’s Requiem, while perhaps best known for its electrifying “Dies Irae” sequence, takes listeners on a human journey from quiet reflection to the full force of orchestra and chorus. Mr. Levine has hand-picked the soloist roster for this performance, which so far include soprano Michelle Bradley, mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk and tenor Matthew Polenzani. The bass soloist will be announced at a later date.
Saturday, May 19, 2018 (8 p.m.)
As part of a worldwide commemoration of Leonard Bernstein’s centennial, the May Festival will present the composer’s full Mass, a mammoth, once-in-a-generation undertaking, which has only performed in its entirety at the May Festival one other time (in 1972). The enormous theatre piece, which will be conducted by Robert Porco, includes singers, dancers, full orchestra, a rock band, a marching band and more. Tenor Kevin Vortmann will perform the pivotal role of the Celebrant, while the Cincinnati Children’s Choir also performs with the May Festival Chorus.
Friday, May 25, 2018 (8 p.m.)
In 2012, Juanjo Mena made his debut with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the May Festival Chorus conducting two suites from Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé. The debut marked the start of a warm artistic relationship, and now in his first concert as Principal Conductor, Mr. Mena revisits the full score from this exquisite ballet. Also on the program is the North American premiere of Credo by James MacMillan, who is known for his transcendent, often spiritual compositions. The Bernstein Centennial continues with the Chichester Psalms, featuring countertenor David Daniels. Gabrieli’s joyful Magnificat a 33, which has never been performed at the May Festival, opens the program.
Finale – Saturday, May 26, 2018 (8 p.m.)
The season finale reimagines a long-held May Festival tradition, in which Chorus and audience sing together the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s Messiah at the end of the final performance of each Festival. This year, Mr. Mena will lead the full oratorio with the CSO, May Festival Chorus, vocal soloists, and the addition of a May Festival Community Choir, who will rehearse and perform selected movements. Performing the solo roles will be soprano Robin Johannsen, countertenor David Daniels, tenor Barry Banks and baritone José Antonio López. Both experienced and non-experienced singers are invited to join the May Festival Community Choir, and more information about how to get involved will be announced at a later date.
Sing Hallelujah Cincinnati – Sunday, May 20, 2018 (7 p.m.)
Dr. Rollo Dilworth, a composer, author, educator and former Board Chair of Chorus America, has curated a community celebration which will be presented to the public free of charge at Music Hall on Sunday, May 20. This community concert will tap into the exceptional musical talent that thrives in the Cincinnati region and explore the universal expression, “Hallelujah!” in a joyful multi-genre celebration. Dr. Dilworth’s music, which often focuses on spirituals, gospel and African-American voices, will also be part of the event. This performance will be free and open to the public.
Bernstein at the Basilica – Sunday, April 22, 2018 (8 p.m.)
The May Festival Chorus continues a long tradition of an annual concert at the gorgeous Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption located across the Ohio River from Cincinnati in Covington, KY. The May Festival Chorus a capella chamber choir, directed by Mr. Porco, and the May Festival Youth Chorus, directed by James Bagwell, offer a prelude to the May Festival and will perform works by Gabrieli (Jubilate Deo), Bernstein (Missa Brevis) and James MacMillan.
As a gift to Cincinnati and to the May Festival, Mr. Mena will bring a musical treat from his native Basque Country of Spain. Otxotes are eight-man vocal ensembles that originated in the tradition of singing for pleasure at home with family and friends, livening up celebrations and festivities, in bars and in the streets. And they will do the same here in Cincinnati – in pre-concert recitals on May 25 and 26, and also perhaps in the most unexpected places. More details will be announced at a later date.
Subscription and ticketing Season ticket packages of two to four Music Hall performances are on sale now for as little as $27. Subscribers enjoy best seating at the best prices, free ticket exchanges, priority seating in renovated Music Hall for subscription performances and the chance to buy guaranteed parking and special concerts in advance. Remaining tickets for individual performances go on sale to the general public at 10 a.m. on March 12, 2018.
The 2018 May Festival is sponsored by Chavez Properties.