James Levine to return to May Festival for Juanjo Mena’s first season

Juanjo Mena leads his first season as May Festival principal conductor this May.
James Levine. Photo courtesy of the Met Orchestra.

Maestro James Levine, a Cincinnati native, will return to conduct Verdi’s Requiem for the Cincinnati May Festival opening night in May, as part of principal conductor Juanjo Mena’s first season. It will be Levine’s his first appearance in Cincinnati’s Music Hall since he conducted at the festival in 2005.

In addition, the season will feature tributes to Leonard Bernstein, whose centennial is being observed around the world in 2018. The celebrated countertenor David Daniels, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, will be featured in Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms in one of the programs.

Mena’s debut festival, to take place May 18-26 in the newly renovated Music Hall, was announced on Monday via Facebook Live — a first for the festival. Dr. Rollo Dilworth, a Temple University conductor composer and choral music champion, will serve as Mena’s creative partner, as part of the festival’s new artistic model. The third member of the creative team is Robert Porco, longtime director of choruses.Read More »


The new ballet experience in Music Hall

Melissa Gelfin and Cervilio Miguel Amador 12_preview
Melissa Gelfin and Cervilio Miguel Amador were stunning in the leading roles of Cincinnati Ballet’s “Romeo and Juliet” over the weekend.

Cincinnati Ballet’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” over the weekend offered another chance to hear Music Hall’s new acoustics from a different perspective – in a ballet set-up.

Much as before the renovation, the best experience for concertgoers in terms of the sound depends upon where one sits. But you must also consider the “configuration” of the hall for the type of show that is being mounted.

For the ballet at the Sunday matinee, the orchestra was in the pit – as it will also be for Cincinnati Opera productions. It was a treat to hear the orchestra playing Prokofiev’s magnificent score to “Romeo and Juliet,” which I’ve heard many times as an orchestral suite in concert. It was led with a sure hand by ballet maestro Carmon DeLeone and superbly played by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Artistic director Victoria Morgan’s production was gorgeous in every way.  As Juliet, Melissa Gelfin delivered a ravishing performance and her Romeo, Cervilio Miguel Amador, was the perfect romantic hero. But I was also curious about David Lyman’s comment in his excellent review for The Enquirer about “the many drawbacks of seeing ballet in Music Hall.”

From the gallery, the ballet performance onstage indeed seemed far away from the audience. The entire show took place behind the proscenium arch, with a very large orchestra pit in front of the stage. To me, the large pit detracted from the viewer’s focus on the stage.

The orchestra sounded magnificent but the large pit made the performers seem far away.
The view of final bows from the gallery (second balcony)

But it’s ironic that this configuration – with the orchestra in the pit — offered the best sound I’ve heard this season for the listener. I sat in the GALLERY for the first time since the hall opened on Oct. 6.

Gone was the muddiness of previous weeks. The brass and winds were exceptionally clear and powerful. The string sound was much better, except in big climaxes, where it was easy for the brass to overpower.

The focus of the sound was also better. I recalled a comment from a retired musician, who thought that the orchestra needed a more embracing acoustical shell surrounding them on three sides. In fact, the walls of the pit may have actually provided that, perhaps the reason for a better sound.

Other impressions: The city has doubled the cost of parking in Town Center Garage this year, to $10. Parking in Washington Park Garage, owned by 3CDC, is now $15 for shows. I parked behind Music Hall and walked around to the front of the building. The weather was cold and raw, and I felt badly for the older people and children that I saw trying to get across the four lanes of Central Parkway to get to the front door. There were no police officers assisting, as there have been for CSO concerts.

It’s too bad that the ballet matinee was so sparsely attended.  Whether the poor attendance was a result of not enough marketing, uncertainty about parking or the cold weather, I hope it’s not a harbinger of audiences to come. Especially now, in the beautifully freshened and updated hall, the dancers – and the orchestra – deserve to have a full house every time.





How ‘cool pictures’ became a groundbreaking book about Music Hall


Matthew Zory. Photo by Michael Wilson

You’ve seen double bassist Matthew Zory performing in a tux with the bass section at the back of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra each week since he joined the orchestra in 1993.

But maybe you don’t know that for 16 months, Zory was inside Music Hall’s construction zone, wearing a hard hat with his camera slung over a shoulder, documenting the $143 million renovation project from the basement to the Rose Window.

“I could go anywhere, wherever I wanted,” said Zory, “When there were guys working overhead, they would put up danger tape. I know it’s a standard construction site — there were holes in the floor and no rails up yet. But the (construction crew) would help me out.”

What began as curiosity and a hunt for “cool pictures” by Zory, who “dabbles in photography,” evolved into a substantial photography book documenting the process and the people behind Music Hall’s renovation.

“Through the Lens: The Remaking of Cincinnati’s Music Hall,” a limited edition by Cincinnati Book Publishing, will be available Dec. 1.Read More »

CSO’s lush playing a highlight of ‘Pelléas et Mélisande’

The orchestra sat flat on the thrust stage, surrounded by a catwalk on which the singers performed.

Louis Langrée and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra concluded their “Pelléas Trilogy” over the weekend in Music Hall.

My review of the CSO’s performance of Debussy’s opera “Pelléas et Mélisande” can be found today on musicalamerica.com. (Click here to read it.)

The orchestra’s “Friday Orange” event included some creepy visitors in the lobby, wrapping and unwrapping themselves.

Three women wrapped and unwrapped themselves in long streams of ribbon for Friday Orange (director Annie Saunders)

The opera, presented in a semi-staged concert version, provided another chance to hear the new acoustics in Music Hall. For this concert, I sat in two different locations, as you’ll see in the review.

A scene from the opera on a platform behind the orchestra. Lee Snow, photo.

It was the first time the orchestra has performed with voice in the hall since the $143 million renovation was completed.

For this performance, the orchestra was positioned in a different configuration from those on Opening Night and last week at the Pops.

Next weekend, I plan to go to Cincinnati Ballet’s “Romeo and Juliet,” which will have the CSO in the pit for the first time. And on Nov. 4, the May Festival Chorus will join for yet another set-up.

My view from row 2 of the new terrace seating, right side.

What are your impressions so far? Let us know!

Finding the mood of Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande”

CSo rendering
A rendering of the set. Photo provided: CSO/Adam Rigg

James Darrah likes to point out that he has curated the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s “Pelleas Trilogy” in three different phases of Music Hall’s renovation.

CSO music director Louis Langrée’s three year project exploring Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1893 play, “Pelléas et Mélisande” began with Arnold Schoenberg’s tone poem in Music Hall – pre-renovation. It continued last year with Gabriel Fauré’s incidental music to the play when the orchestra was displaced at the Taft Theater.

This weekend, the project culminates in Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande” in the newly renovated Music Hall.  The performance is in collaboration with Cincinnati Opera.

“It’s been really fun to bring an opera to life in this space,” says the Los Angeles-based director and designer. “We’re all still learning what we can and can’t do (in the theater). Some things are familiar and some different.”Read More »

How’s your musical memory? A Q&A with Music Hall acoustician Paul Scarbrough

Music Hall has new acoustical treatments, such as these new “clouds” overhead.

Acoustic: əˈko͞ostik/ (plural acoustics): “The properties or qualities of a room … that determine how sound is transmitted.” (Dictionary.com)

In the words of the dean of acoustics, Leo Beranek, acoustics is “the science of sound.” Things such as resonance, frequency (pitch), amplitude, wave reflections and delay times affect how we hear music, he writes in  “How they Sound: Concert and Opera Halls.”

Music Hall, formerly made of wood and plaster-over-brick, now has concrete floors, walls moved inward and a stage that is now 12 feet closer to the audience. A few days before it reopened after its $143 million renovation, I met with acoustical consultant Paul Scarbrough of Akustiks in Springer Auditorium to  find out how he and colleague Chris Blair have been making acoustical adjustments to what is now a new concert “hall within a hall.”

Question: Music Hall has very good acoustics, and you’ve said that your goal is to build on that. Now, how has the sound of the hall changed?Read More »

Classical notes: Arts news around town

Young Professionals Choral Collective performing at Rhinegeist Brewery. Provided: YPCC

Innovative OTR chorus to host national directors, singers:  The Young Professionals Choral Collective (YPCC), the innovative local choir that is led by KellyAnn Nelson, plans to  bring together more than 150 young professionals and choir directors from across the country for a weekend of song and exploring the “City that Sings.”

The event, Oct. 21-22, will share the innovative choral collective model with national choral leaders.

YPCC artistic director KellyAnn Nelson

What makes this choir so special? The group appeals to 20-to-40-somethings who love to sing and socialize — sometimes simultaneously.  They rehearse, perform concerts and — yes, party too — in bars, breweries and other alternative venues in the OTR area. The chorus is diverse, with as many men as women. They perform demanding literature, and do it well. Since Nelson founded it in 2012, membership has swelled to more than 900.Read More »