The Western Hemisphere’s greatest, oldest and most prestigious choral music festival returns to Cincinnati this weekend. James Conlon, music director of the Cincinnati May Festival, will conduct the Opening Night performance 8 p.m. Friday, May 22 at Cincinnati’s Music Hall, among the traditional fanfare such as herald trumpets announcing the start of the Festival in the lobby and front steps of Music Hall, as well as pre-concert recitals by the world-renowned soloists. The annual choral festival dates back 142 years, and features the volunteer May Festival Chorus and the acclaimed Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO).
“There’s nothing like this anywhere else in the world,” said Mr. Conlon. “The May Festival is an extraordinary annual event steeped in tradition, volunteerism and remarkable artistry.”
The 2015 May Festival kicks off with Haydn’s exquisite Die Schöpfung (“The Creation”). This massive work was inspired by the great oratorios of Handel, and consumed so much of his energy during its composition that Haydn collapsed into a period of illness after its premiere in 1798.
The work famously celebrates the creation of the world, citing the biblical Genesis text and Milton’s Paradise Lost. Soprano Amanda Woodbury, tenor Ben Bliss and bass-baritone Kristinn Sigmundsson join the May Festival Chorus and CSO as soloists representing the archangels Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael, respectively. Mr. Conlon conducts this masterpiece at the Festival for the first time since 2006. A photographer will be available for portraits pre-concert, as well as spring specialty Bellinis at the Music Hall cash bar. Food trucks will be parked in front of Music Hall for al fresco dining. The May Festival is grateful to Opening Night Concert Sponsor Harry and Linda Fath.
Weekend One of the Festival continues Saturday, May 23 at 8 p.m. again at Music Hall. Director of Choruses Robert Porco, who celebrates his 25th anniversary as chorus director this year, conducts the Chorus and CSO in the second day of the Festival, highlighted by the First Symphony of Vaughan Williams, A Sea Symphony.
Named for its impressionistic depictions of man’s experience observing and sailing on the ocean, the symphony draws its text from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Soprano Erin Wall and baritone Roderick Williams add rich color to the entwining choral lines. The first half of this program is comprised of Handel’s first three Coronation Anthems: Zadok the Priest, Let Thy Hand be Strengthened, and The King Shall Rejoice. A photographer will be available for portraits pre-concert, as well as specialty beer at the Music Hall cash bar. Food trucks will be parked in front of Music Hall for al fresco dining. The May Festival is grateful to May 23 Concert Sponsor Thompson Hine, LLP.
Both Mr. Porco and James Bagwell (Director of the May Festival Youth Chorus) conduct portions of the program on Sunday, May 24 at 8 p.m. at the exquisite Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky. The concert features both the May Festival Chamber Choir and May Festival Youth Chorus (without the CSO). This program features selections of sacred music, including Bach’s Cantata No. 47, “Wer sich selbst erhohet, der soll erniedriget warden,” as well as works by Brahms, Palestrina, Berlioz and Poulenc. The May Festival is grateful to Basilica Concert Sponsors Bartlett & Co. and Christopher and Beth Canarie, as well as May Festival Youth Chorus Sponsor Scripps Howard Foundation.
The Festival continues May 29-30 at Cincinnati Music Hall (details to be announced next week). Tickets for all performances are on sale now through the May Festival Box Office by calling (513) 381-3300 or visiting mayfestival.com.