May Festival’s first season with Mena emphasized community

Links to my festival reviews for Cincinnati Business Courier are below:

John Holiday stepped in to sing wonderfully in Chichester Psalms when David Daniels could not apear on Friday. Photos are provided by the Cincinnati May Festival

The 2018 May Festival ended on Saturday night with a terrific performance of Handel’s Messiah, in which 170 community singers joined the May Festival Chorus.

Juanjo Mena led a stylish performance with a reduced Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a smaller chorus (about 65 singers) surrounding the orchestra on risers. Stationed up high in Music Hall’s gallery were guest choruses, who participated in excerpts of the oratorio. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised from my seat — also in the gallery — that their ensemble was clean and they sang exceedingly well, as did the May Festival Chorus.

The May Festival Chorus on risers, with Juanjo Mena and soloists walking offstage

The soloists were superb — including soprano Robin Johannsen, tenor Barry Banks and baritone José Antonio López. What a thrill it was to hear countertenor David Daniels — who had canceled due to illness on Friday — appear on Saturday to sing brilliantly in airs such as “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion.” I especially enjoyed his wonderful embellishments to his vocal lines.

Highly-trained community choruses flanked the stage, seated in the gallery.

Mena propelled tempos briskly, and kept the vocal and instrumental articulation crisp. It was an uplifting conclusion to his first year as principal conductor.

May Festival articles

The tradition of little flowers girls/boys is still alive at the May Festival

I have reviewed three May Festival concerts for the Cincinnati Business Courier, thanks to support from the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism.

REVIEW: Eun Sun Kim makes stunning debut in Verdi’s Requiem at May Festival

REVIEW: Bernstein’s ‘Mass’ an over-the-top ‘happening’ at May Festival

REVIEW: Juanjo Mena makes joyous debut as new May Festival leader

Leonard Bernstein’s Mass in Music Hall for the first time since 1972

And thanks to grants from ArtsWave and the Haile Foundation, you may view the Courier’s arts page for FREE. Click here for much more arts coverage, including other May Festival stories.

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James Conlon receives Italian honor

James Conlon. Photo provided

The President of the Italian Republic has awarded May Festival music director laureate James Conlon with the Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (Commendatore Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana).

The title of Commendatore is granted to acknowledge “merits achieved for the nation in the fields of literature, arts, economics, and in the fulfillment of public duties.” It is one of Italy’s highest honors.

“Being descended, in part, from Italian immigrants, this recognition of my work is particularly meaningful to me,” said the New York-born maestro.

Two other American-born conductors — both with Cincinnati ties — have been similarly honored: Leonard Bernstein (1989) and Thomas Schippers (1975). Bernstein was honorary music director of the Cincinnati May Festival; Thomas Schippers was music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Conlon, who is currently principal conductor of the RAI National Symphony Orchestra in Torino —the first American to hold this position—has performed regularly in Italy for over 30 years. He is recognized internationally for his work in both the concert hall and opera house, and has also served as music director of Los Angeles Opera since 2006.

The May Festival is here

Eun Sun Kim with soloists for Verdi’s Requiem in Music Hall

The May Festival opened last night with a stunning performance of Verdi’s Requiem conducted by Eun Sun Kim — the first woman to lead the Cincinnati May Festival. Watch for a review later today at bizjournals.com/cincinnati/topic/arts.

And below are links to other preview stories that I’ve been writing for The Business Courier, part of their new initiative to provide arts coverage for our region:

Volunteer talent shines at 145-year-old Cincinnati May Festival: Click here to read

May Festival conductor Kim among new wave of women on the podium: Click here

May Festival to perform Bernstein Mass for first time in 46 years: Click here

The tradition of little flowers girls/boys is still alive at the May Festival

Tenor Bryan Hymel to step in for Polenzani in Verdi Requiem

Tenor Bryan Hymel. Photo by Dario Acosta

The Cincinnati May Festival has announced that the celebrated tenor Matthew Polenzani is ill and unable to perform in Verdi’s Requiem to open the festival this Friday.

Bryan Hymel will replace Polenzani as tenor soloist on May 18. Hymel regularly appears with the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, Opéra National de Paris, and La Scala.

He has performed the roles of Don José in Carmen, Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly and as tenor soloist in the Verdi Requiem. He has been the recipient of the opera world’s most prestigious awards including the Olivier Award, the Metropolitan Opera’s Beverly Sills Artist Award, and the George Thill Prize, and has been the top prize winner in the Lissner, Albanese, Zachary, Gari and Metropolitan Opera National Council competitions.

Rising star Eun Sun Kim will conduct the opening night performance, replacing James Levine.

For information, visit mayfestival.com.

Brahms Concerto shines with Ehnes in CSO season finale

James Ehnes performed Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D Major with the CSO. Photo provided

Violinist James Ehnes’ inspired playing in the Brahms Violin Concerto with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra over the weekend can only be described as masterful. The golden sound that he achieved on his 1715 Stradivarius violin was stunning. In Saturday’s concert, it was equally fascinating to hear Ehnes reveal the Cincinnati connection behind his $8 million instrument.Read More »

CSO’s Baroque gems with Bicket a rare treat

Countertenor Iestyn Davies joined Harry Bicket and the CSO in a rare Baroque concert at Music Hall. Photo provided by CSO/Kayla Moore

Harry Bicket’s Baroque concert of Handel and Rameau brought a breath of fresh air to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra over the weekend.

A glance at the program told the story of how rare it was to hear these Baroque gems in Music Hall. Every single piece on the program – even Handel’s Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 11 – was being performed by the orchestra for the first time.

And there was no better partner in this repertoire than the superb British countertenor Iestyn Davies, who made his Cincinnati debut in arias from Handel operas. Davies is one of a new generation of countertenors now making international waves. Read More »