Cincinnati May Festival Celebrates 150th Anniversary

The Cincinnati May Festival is celebrating its 150th anniversary as the longest continuously running choral festival in the Western hemisphere with its 2022-2023 season. Premieres, new programs, and more are all part of the celebratory year.

The 2023 Cincinnati May Festival will feature the May Festival Chorus and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) performing beloved works, including Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, Symphony of a Thousand, joined by the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Cincinnati Youth Choir, and Cincinnati Boychoir; Mozart’s Requiem; Bach’s Magnificat; and R. Nathaniel Dett’s oratorio The Ordering of Moses. The season will also feature significant premieres of commissioned works. The work Timotheus, Bacchus and Cecilia by James MacMillan and Breaths of Universal Longings by James Lee III will premiere on May 19. Then, led by May Festival music director laureate James Conlon on May 25, the May Festival Chorus and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra will perform a newly commissioned work by Julia Adolphe.

In honor of its commissioning legacy, The May Festival also launched the 25 for 25: A New Time for Choral Music commissioning project as part of its anniversary. Through this project, 25 composers from the Luna Composition Lab, which supports female, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming composers ages 13- 18, composed new works. Choral ensembles across Greater Cincinnati premiered works from the project in April and will continue to perform premieres in May.

This year serves as principal conductor Juanjo Mena’s conclusion to his six-year tenure with the May Festival. Mena contributed new and diverse programming and a deep commitment to community engagement during his time with the May Festival.

The 150th anniversary season also brought the announcement of the retirement of director of choruses Robert Porco. The longest-tenured director of choruses in the history of the May Festival, Porco will conclude his 35-year tenure after the 2023-24 season. He has worked with more than 1,300 individual singers of the May Festival Chorus, prepared 532 distinct choral works for 170 May Festival concerts, and conducted 26 concerts. Porco will be named director of choruses emeritus upon retirement.