Concertos and Concerto Soloists at the May Festival


Concertos and Concerto Soloists at the May Festival

In addition to its robust history of choral and vocal works, the May Festival has an extensive performed repertoire of instrumental works – many of which featured notable guest soloists. Interestingly, the May Festivals from 1960-1970 were a particularly soloistic time.

The 1960 May Festival included a performance of Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ, Timpani, and Strings in G minor with organist Hans Vigeland and conductor Josef Krips.

To close the 1963 May Festival, Max Rudolf led an evening of concertos: famed violinist Isaac Stern performed the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto; Rudolf Serkin performed the Robert Schumann Piano Concerto, and both gentlemen, along with flautist George Hambrecht, principal flute of the Cincinnati Symphony from 1962-1990, performed Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. The program also included Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, featuring Mr. Serkin.

The 1965 May Festival was led by two conductors: Stanisław Skrowaczewski, music director of the Minnesota Orchestra; and Robert Shaw, then the associate conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra and director of the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus. Skrowaczewski’s program for May 22 included a concerto trifecta on the first half: Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in F Minor, with pianist Grant Johannessen; Brahms’ Double Concerto for Violin and Cello, with Zara Nelsova, cello, and Josef Fuchs, violin; and the Beethoven “Triple” Concerto, featuring all three –all before intermission!

Robert Shaw’s program on May 19, 1965, was similarly soloistic. The piano duo of Vronsky and Babin performed Mozart’s Concerto in E-Flat Major for Two Pianos, K. 365, as well as Benjamin Britten’s Scottish Ballade, Op. 26. Additionally, the program included “Spring” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons; as no soloist is listed, one assumes that the concertmaster of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra at the time, Sigmund Effron, would have served as soloist.

In 1967, Peter Serkin, son of Rudolf Serkin, was the soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 14 in E-flat Major. Interestingly, the program was one of the few in May Festival history with no choral or vocal music; Georg Szell, music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, led Mozart’s Symphony No. 35, “Haffner”, and Brahms’ Symphony No. 2. According to the Cincinnati Post, there was a power outage at Music Hall approximately one hour after the performance, and many patrons returned the next evening to hear Birgit Nilsson with flashlights in their purses and pockets!

At the 1968 May Festival, Max Rudolf led Handel’s Concerto Grosso in D Minor, Op. 6, No. 10, and featured three players from the CSO ranks: Sigmund Effron, concertmaster; Henry Shaw, assistant principal second violin; and Roy Christensen, principal cello.

Isaac Stern returned to the May Festival in 1969 to perform Brahms’ Violin Concerto as well as two works of Mozart: the Adagio in E major, K. 261, and the Rondo in C major, K. 373; Max Rudolf conducted.

Lastly, the 1970 May Festival saw the return of Rudolf Serkin as part of an all-Beethoven program. Mr. Serkin played two Beethoven piano concertos in one concert: No. 2 in B-flat before intermission, and No. 4 in G major after. Curiously, the program, led by Julius Rudel, ended with an overture: Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b.