Cincinnati May Festival Returns With Five Concerts: May 21 Through May 30, 2021 At Cincinnati Music Hall


The Cincinnati May Festival has announced program details and artists for the 2021 Festival with five performances taking place between May 21 and 30, 2021 at Cincinnati Music Hall. Principal Conductor Juanjo Mena will conduct two performances each of two separate programs with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO), vocal soloists and members of the May Festival Chorus, for a total of four concerts. Director of Choruses Robert Porco will conduct one concert featuring the CSO and vocal soloists. Nearly 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 be making their May Festival debuts.

“It is an emotional time as we take our first steps coming together again,” said May Festival Principal Conductor Juanjo Mena. “My heart has never been more full of hope and optimism. I can think of no better way to connect and express the complex emotions we all feel that through voices raised together in song. This May, we will discover the voice in everything: From challenge and sadness to hope, joy and triumph—this will truly be a Festival of music that speaks to our time.”

In addition to the concerts, though the May Festival Youth Chorus will not have a physical presence at Music Hall this year, they will participate through the premiere of a new collaborative project commissioned from composer Robert Busiakiewicz and digital designer Stacey Fox. singing / everything, inspired by writings of Gertrude Stein, invites the listener to alter the musical work through an innovative online platform. Youth Chorus members individually recorded “modules” or “tracks” in March and Fox has 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, Principal Conductor
Robert Porco, Director of Choruses

Opening Weekend
Friday, May 21, 2021, 7:30pm
Saturday, May 22, 2021, 7:30pm
Juanjo Mena, conductor
May Festival Chorus Tenor and Bass Ensemble
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
Sara Couden, contralto
Elliot Madore, baritone
Anton Bruckner Adagio from String Quintet WAB 112
Orchestral Transcription: Stanislaw Skrowaczewski
Julia Perry Stabat Mater
Gustav Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (“Songs of a Wayfarer”)
Arr. Arnold Schoenberg
Gustav Holst Selected Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda

Fourth Group H.100

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

Voice and Verse
Friday, May 28, 2021, 7:30pm
Robert Porco, conductor
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano
Sophia Burgos, soprano
Davóne Tines, baritone
Aaron Copland Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson
Maria Schneider Winter Morning Walks
John Adams The Wound-Dresser

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

Hearts and Voices Soar
Saturday, May 29, 2021, 7:30pm
Sunday, May 30, 2021, 2:30pm
Juanjo Mena, conductor
May Festival Chorus Soprano and Alto Ensemble
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
Joélle Harvey, soprano
Paul Appleby, tenor
Gustav Mahler Adagietto from Symphony No. 5
Benjamin Britten Les Illuminations
Franz Schubert Nacht und Träume D.827 (Arr. Reger)

Litanei D.343 (Arr. Reger)
Gruppe aus dem Tartarus D.583 (Arr. Reger)
Der Erlkönig (Arr. Berlioz) H136
Gustav Holst Selected Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda

Second Group H. 98
Reena Esmail I Rise: Women in Song

The Beauty of their Dreams (Eleanor Roosevelt)
River Song (Arlene Geller)

The CSO gave the American premiere of Mahler’s fifth symphony, and the heart wrenching Adagietto movement opens this program. Wide-ranging verse and prose by the French poet Arthur Rimbaud provides the text for Britten’s song cycle Les Illuminations, sung here by Joélle Harvey. Paul Appleby sings four Schubert songs, with orchestrations by Max Reger and Hector Berlioz. Complementing the opening weekend program, members of the May Festival Chorus offer Holst’s Rig Veda hymns for upper voices. The Festival culminates in two movements from Indian-American composer Reena Esmail’s song cycle I Rise: Women in Song, for women’s chorus and chamber orchestra, inspired by female authors whose words, thoughts and actions have shaped our world.

Among other precautions and in accordance with state and CDC safety protocols, the in-person concerts and events will be 60-90 minutes with no intermission and the audience capacity is greatly reduced with a physically distanced seating arrangement. Vocal soloists, members of the May Festival Chorus and instrumentalists from the CSO are also maintaining appropriate physical distance as dictated by the American Federation of Musicians and further recommendations from infectious disease specialists. Chorus members will be masked at all times, as will string instrumentalists and conductors. Vocal soloists and wind and brass instrumentalists will be masked while not actively performing. The Festival continually monitors the COVID situation and adjusts capacity and plans as governmental restrictions fluctuate.

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

Subscriptions for two or three concerts will be available beginning March 29; single tickets will be
placed on sale May 3 and start at $15. Due to COVID restrictions, seating capacity is severely limited.

Guaranteed pre-paid parking will be available ($15/concert) at Washington Park Garage to all ticket buyers starting March 29.