Cancellations, digital programs, relief funds: How Cincinnati’s arts organizations are coping with COVID-19

A previous production of The Magic Flute/ provided by Cincinnati Opera

Cincinnati Opera’s news yesterday that it must cancel its 2020 Summer Festival — the company’s 100th anniversary — was just the latest in an ongoing wave of arts cancellations due to COVID-19. Because of extended stay-at-home orders and closures, it was literally impossible to begin set-building and rehearsing, let alone fly in the international stars who were coming from Italy and the Czech Republic.

I doubt that entire seasons have ever been canceled for such a plague, although world wars have interrupted some. Of the many arts organizations that I have interviewed this month, a few leaders have predicted to me, that, until people feel comfortable being with other people in a theater, museum or a concert hall (and you can add to that, restaurants and stadiums), they will not return. And that won’t happen until there is a vaccine.

As Ensemble Theatre’s D. Lynn Meyers tells me in Friday’s Business Courier, we all thought things would be closed for a weekend, and then it would be back to normal. Now we talk about the “new normal.”

The Blue Wisp Big Band at Caffe Vivace last month.

I began observing how the coronavirus was impacting our city’s freelance musicians about a month ago, when restaurants closed, and musicians began streaming their music live from empty bars, for tips. That article, “Virtual Reality,” on April 3, included some jazz musicians, as well. Trumpeter Matt Anklan, an adjunct at Miami University, said that 60 percent of his income is from freelance jobs — now completely gone.

A spot check of Cincinnati’s major arts organizations, “Critical Stage” on April 10, told stories of how groups are struggling to hang onto their staffs even as they tally their losses. Losses will be big. ArtsWave — which was just midway through its annual, $12.4 million campaign when the virus hit — predicts that losses in Cincinnati’s arts community could top $30 million if there is no arts activity all summer.

Van Gogh’s Undergrowth with Two Figures at Cincinnati Art Museum

Still, there was a note of optimism, despite the expected red ink. Cincinnati Art Museum’s Cameron Kitchin told me, “The arts are about connecting and inspiring. What greater time of need do we have for inspiration and connection than right now, in this time of social distancing and flickering hope? If we look at what the arts to able to provide for humanity, this is a moment where we are called to action.”

Friday’s article (April 17) is about how small and mid-sized arts groups in our region are coping. There will be more stories to come, including some with good news of how people are stepping up in a time of crisis.

As I wrote in a column at the very beginning of the trickle of online arts offerings — now a tsunami — the arts offer escape, joy and comfort. Don’t forget, these organizations can’t wait to welcome you back, live and in person, when we all reach the other side.

CSO, Pops, May Festival cancel all concerts for the rest of the season


The May Festival has canceled its entire season due to Covid-19.

It’s not surprising, but the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Pops Orchestra announced this morning that they are canceling all concerts and events through the remainder of the season due to the coronavirus.

In addition, the entire Cincinnati May Festival season is canceled, as well as performances by the professional chorus, the Vocal Arts Ensemble.

This year is the orchestra’s 125th anniversary season.

Of course, financially the effects of Covid-19 will be disastrous for all of Cincinnati’s major arts organizations. We await to learn whether Cincinnati Opera will be able to mount its much-anticipated 100th anniversary season, to open in June.

Here’s the CSO’s announcement with a listing of cancellations:

In compliance with Governor Mike DeWine’s standing mass-gathering prohibitions and the recent directive to stay at home, and given ongoing travel bans, international quarantines and the continued disruption of normal business activity caused by the Coronavirus, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra announced today the cancellation of all CSO, Cincinnati Pops and May Festival concerts and events through May 31, 2020.

The CSO had previously cancelled concerts and events through April 5. President Jonathan Martin said that in light of the deepening national health crisis, the organization had no choice.Read More »

CSO, Pops cancel shows through April 5 after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine bans gatherings of more than 100

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Pops have canceled all concerts through “at least April 5 due to coronavirus concerns. The orchestra released this statement on its website:

“Governor DeWine’s decision prioritizes public health by restricting all large gatherings, and we are committed to the health and well-being of our audience members, musicians, volunteers and staff.

“This cancellation will have a significant financial impact for the Orchestra. We are especially appreciative of our generous supporters who will consider their donating tickets for these performances. Throughout our 125-year history, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has navigated challenges and continues to thrive because of the strength of our community. Now, as always, we are grateful for our community’s extraordinary support.”

Click here for information about ticket exchanges or how to donate.

Here are others that we know about:

♦Memorial Hall has closed due to concerns around the spread of COVID-19.

♦Chamber Music Cincinnati has canceled the Pavel Haas Quartet concert scheduled for tonight. Ticket fees will be refunded automatically. Info: 513-977-8838.

♦Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati (ETC) is temporarily suspending all performances, events, and community programs, effective immediately.

The theatre is working to identify dates to reschedule its shows and ticket holders for upcoming performances will be contacted. Additionally, ETC will be relaxing its exchange policies and waive all fees to find suitable solutions for its patrons.

♦YPCC has canceled Saturday’s Radio Revelry Gala Concert at Cincinnati Museum Center. It will be rescheduled for May 19. Details here.

♦The Metropolitan Opera has canceled its Live in HD performances in movie theaters around the country.

♦At the Aronoff Center: Friday’s performance of Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood: The Scared Scriptless Tour has been rescheduled for Tuesday, May 26, 2020 at 7:30 PM at the Aronoff Center’s Procter & Gamble Hall.

♦Tomorrow evening’s performance of Sex n’ the City: A (Super Unauthorized) Musical Parody has been rescheduled for Saturday, June 13, 2020 at 7:30 PM at the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater.  The show was originally scheduled for Friday, March 13, 2020.

♦Due to Johnny Mathis’ specific travel and health advisements, this Saturday’s concert with Johnny Mathis has been rescheduled for Saturday, August 15, 2020 at 8:00 PM at the Aronoff Center’s Procter & Gamble Hall.  The concert was originally scheduled for Saturday, March 14, 2020.

Current Aronoff Center ticketholders will be sent new tickets with the rescheduled date and time the week of April 6, 2020.  Refund info prior to Friday, April 3, 2020 at (513) 621-2787 or

♦Cincinnati Art Museum: The Gorham Silver: Designing Brilliance, 1850–1970 opening reception and lecture have been cancelled. However, self-tours will be permitted in the new exhibition until 7 p.m., and the museum will remain open until 8 p.m.

Across the country, the arts are taking a hit. At 5 p.m. today, Broadway theaters will go dark by order of Governor Andrew Cuomo. Here’s Playbill.

See the list in the previous post for more cancellations.

Karin Pendle, a pioneering scholar of women in music and a mentor to many

Karin Pendle low resShe was a soloist with Cincinnati May Festival and edited “A City that Sings” on Cincinnati’s choral history

Karin Swanson Pendle was a pioneer in the scholarship of women in music and a professor who inspired legions of students at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

For many, she was a mentor. Personally, it was through her groundbreaking course on women in music at CCM that I became acquainted with the breadth and depth of women’s contributions to music. It became a passion that continues to this day. Although Dr. Pendle was a demanding and sometimes formidable professor, she was also fiercely supportive even while pushing her students to achieve their highest potential. If we ever displayed self-doubt, she was quick to remind us that “you have a brain,” always encouraging us to think, dig deeper and find our own answers.

“Her praise was rare, but precious,” said musicologist Jennifer Thomas.

Dr. Pendle died on Dec. 9 at Twin Towers in College Hill, Cincinnati. She was 80.

Dr. Pendle edited and wrote a chapter for “Women and Music: A History,” one of the first textbooks ever printed on women’s roles in music when it was published in 1991 by Indiana University Press. She also edited the textbook’s second edition, published in 2001.

It remains an invaluable survey of women’s activities in music performance, composition, teaching and patronage from the time of ancient Greece to the present day, illuminating achievements by women that have been largely invisible through the centuries.Read More »

May Festival in full swing

View of the stage on Opening Night at the May Festival

Here are last weekend’s reviews:

Friday night’s review of Mark Simpson’s “The Immortal” is published on the national website, Classical Voice North America, free to read by clicking here.

And Saturday’s review is published locally by the Cincinnati Business Courier. Remember that the Arts Front is always free, but you may need to register for a FREE subscription. Click here for the review, and click here to read the season preview.

Tonight, May 23: Craig Hella Johnson leads Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble in a performance of his own oratorio, “Considering Matthew Shepard.” The work provides “a space for reflection, consideration and unity around (Matthew Shepard’s) life and legacy,” Johnson says. Rod Caspers, stage director. 7 p.m., Corbett Auditorium, CCM. (Note the show is moved from PCT due to ticket demand.)

Herald trumpets hail the season

Friday, May 24: Music director laureate James Conlon returns to the Festival for the first time since 2016 to lead Mussorgsky’s Prologue and Farewell Scene from “Boris Godunov,” Boito’s Prologue from “Mefistofele” and Mahler’s “Das Klagende Lied,” with soloists Morris Robinson, Sarah Vautour, Taylor Raven, Richard Trey Smagur, John Siarris and Donnie Ray Albert. Conlon gives the preconcert lecture at 7 p.m. in Springer Auditorium.

NOTE THE EARLY START TIME, Saturday, May 25: Juanjo Mena leads J.S. Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” with soloists Berit Norbakken Solset, Carlos Mena, Werner Güra, James Newby, Andrew Stenson and Hanno Müller-Brachmann and the May Festival Youth Chorus.  7 p.m., Music Hall (Note the early start time).

And here’s the review of the second weekend.

Vocal pyrotechnics by Roomful of Teeth at May Festival

Roomful of Teeth played the Woodward Theater for the May Festival. Photo provided/Lee Snow

It’s hard to categorize Roomful of Teeth, a vocal octet that calls itself a “vocal project.” On Wednesday, the singers — Abigail Lennox and Martha Cluver, sopranos; Alexandra Colaizzi and Virginia Kelsey, altos; Eric Dudley, tenor (former assistant conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra); Avery Griffin, baritone; Thann Scoggin, bass-baritone, and Cameron Beauchamp, bass — amazed a sold-out house with their vocal pyrotechnics at the Woodward Theater in Over-the-Rhine.

There were about 150 music lovers, with a space for standing room, for this sold-out “extra” concert, a first at the 146-year-old Cincinnati May Festival.

It’s safe to say that their style of singing is unusual, if not revolutionary. Their musical palette — some of which was showcased in their first number, Caroline Shaw’s Partita for 8 Voices — included whispering, throat singing, bending of tones, yodeling and possibly some Bulgarian belting, one of their specialties. It was performed with amplification, but nothing, I’m told, was electronically manipulated — which made the feats they achieved even more stunning.Read More »

Music Hall arts groups, FC Cincinnati pledge “good faith” agreement

A recent acoustical study determined that crowd noise from the FC Cincinnati stadium will infiltrate Music Hall’s Springer Auditorium, where concerts by the CSO, Opera, Ballet and others are held.

For the past week, there have been minute-by-minute reports on how the new $250 million stadium for FC Cincinnati will impact Music Hall, its tenants, and Cincinnati Ballet, which has its headquarters at Liberty and Central Parkway.

I’m publishing the statement from arts groups that arrived in my inbox today. For more, Chris Wetterich at the Business Courier is covering all the news at To read the latest news about City Council postponing its vote on FC Cincinnati’s development plan, click here.


This morning the Arts Organizations entered into an agreement of cooperation and support with FC Cincinnati regarding specifically the relationship between the new stadium and Music Hall. The Parties in regard to Music Hall and Stadium Operations have agreed to work together as good neighbors and in good faith on concerns related to noise, parking, traffic, and scheduling. Our collective goal is to minimize the number of occasions where performances at Music Hall occur at the same time as FC Cincinnati home games, and to minimize the impact of the stadium’s noise on Music Hall on the occasions when there are simultaneous events.

Specifically, this will include minimizing the stadium’s noise impact on Music Hall through stadium design and other sound mitigation measures at Music Hall. Regarding parking, if FC Cincinnati manages the Town Center Garage on game days starting in March of 2021 per an agreement with the City of Cincinnati, the team has committed to making a substantial amount of parking in that garage available to audience members attending performances at Music Hall when games overlap with performances. To be clear, this agreement does not speak to the ongoing negotiations between Cincinnati Ballet and FCC regarding the Ballet Center.

A rendering of the stadium site on the West End near Central Parkway/courtesy Business Courier

Who are the next leaders in the arts?

One of the most interesting stories I have had the privilege to write for the Business Courier was about 10 up-and-coming young arts patrons who will be guiding our great Cincinnati arts institutions in the decades to come. For as long as I’ve covered the arts here, there has been hand-wringing over who will replace those great philanthropists and board leaders who have gone before. The Nipperts and Corbetts are just two of most well-known names from the previous generation, among many others.

Cincinnati has a great history of generosity and stewardship that goes back more than a century. You only need to consider this:

The CSO turns 125 in 2020

Cincinnati Opera turns 100 in 2020

Art Academy of Cincinnati turns 150 in 2019

UC’s College-Conservatory of Music is celebrating its 150th this year.

That kind of legacy takes leadership and creativity. And it takes changing with the times. Who could have imagined that an arts event called Blink could bring a million people downtown last year?

These young leaders already hold some of the city’s most important board roles. I think the arts are and will be in very good hands.

So who are the 10? Read the story here.

Where to find arts news and reviews: Visit the new Arts Front at It’s free, but you may need to register for a free subscription. For the latest CSO review of Beethoven’s Ninth, click here.

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.

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.