MAY FESTIVAL CHORUS TO PREMIERE NEW ADAPTATION OF JULIA ADOLPHE’S CROWN OF HUMMINGINGBIRDS ALONGSIDE DURUFLÉ REQUIEM FOR ORGAN AND CHORUS OCTOBER 21, 2023 AT CHRIST CHURCH CATHEDRAL
New Adaptation of Adolphe’s Crown of Hummingbirds for Organ and Chorus to Extend Performance Life and Access for Choral Ensembles
May Festival Director of Choruses Robert Porco to Conduct
CINCINNATI, OH (August 8, 2023)—The Cincinnati May Festival Chorus will premiere a new adaptation of Julia Adolphe’s Crown of Hummingbirds for organ and chorus alongside Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem, at two performances on Saturday, October 21, 2023 at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. at Christ Church Cathedral under the direction of May Festival Director of Choruses Robert Porco.
With music and poetry commissioned by the May Festival for its 150th anniversary in 2023, Julia Adolphe’s Crown of Hummingbirds, with text by award-winning Jamaican author Safiya Sinclair, was originally written for orchestra and chorus and received its world premiere at the May Festival on May 25, 2023 under the direction of May Festival Music Director Laureate James Conlon. This new adaptation of the piece for organ and chorus, to be premiered by the May Festival Chorus and organist Michael Unger and conducted by May Festival Director of Choruses Robert Porco in October, will extend the performance life of the work.
“I am overjoyed to be writing my fourth work for the Cincinnati May Festival,” said Adolphe. “It was a dream come true to be at the performance in May and hear such a vast and rich sound coming from the 125-person chorus and the CSO and to evoke the soaring words of poet Safiya Sinclair. At a rehearsal, James Conlon suggested that a version for chorus and organ would give the piece new life, and I am thrilled that Bob Porco will realize this vision this fall. It is an exciting challenge to capture and create all of the colors of the orchestra into the organ, which has its own unique and rich choral tradition. I hope that this new arrangement will reveal Crown of Hummingbirds in a new light, as well as make the work more accessible to choirs across the country.”
Crown of Hummingbirds received its world premiere alongside a standard of the choral-symphonic music repertoire, Mozart’s Requiem. In October, the new adaptation of the work will be juxtaposed with another Requiem by French composer and organist Maurice Duruflé (1902-86), performed only twice before by the May Festival Chorus in 2012 and 1987. Duruflé’s Requiem, to be performed in October with mixed chorus and organ, will provide unique contrast to Adolphe and Sinclair’s Crown of Hummingbirds, which Sinclair described in her program note as searching for meaning and finding love in gathering together “like hummingbirds now – or in some memory.” Duruflé’s Requiem draws thematic material from the Mass for the Dead in Gregorian chant and will feature baritone Elliot Madore and organist Michael Unger.
“It was a pleasure to prepare the May Festival Chorus for the world premiere of Julia Adolphe’s Crown of Hummingbirds as part of the May Festival’s 150th anniversary,” said Porco. “It’s a wonderful work that was enthusiastically received by audience and Chorus members alike. I look forward to conducting the Duruflé Requiem and premiering the new adaptation of Julia Adolphe’s Crown of Hummingbirds for organ and chorus.”
Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online at mayfestival.com, by phone at 513-381-3300, or in-person by visiting the Box Office at 1241 Elm Street, Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Adolphe’s music is described as “alive with invention” (The New Yorker), “colorful, mercurial, deftly orchestrated” (The New York Times) displaying “a remarkable gift for sustaining a compelling musical narrative” (Musical America). Her works are performed across the U.S. and abroad by renowned orchestras, ensembles, and musicians such as the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Verona Quartet, soprano Hila Plitmann, and pianist Gloria Cheng, among others.
In February of this year, the Sitkovetsky Trio gave the world premiere of Adolphe’s piano trio, which was commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Adolphe's comic opera for all ages, A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears, based on the novel by Jules Feiffer with libretto by Stephanie Fleischmann, received initial workshop performances directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer at National Sawdust and Boston Court Pasadena in 2019. Also in 2019, the New York Philharmonic and Decca Gold rleased their recording of Adolphe’s Unearth Release, a viola concerto commissioned for Cynthia Phelps. In November 2017, the May Festival Chamber Choir, under the baton of Robert Porco, gave the world premiere of Adolphe’s Equinox, which was commissioned by the May Festival Chorus.
Adolphe’s awards include a 2017 ASCAP Young Composers Award, a 2016 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award, a 2016 OPERA America Discovery Grant, and a 2015 Charles Ives Scholarship from the Academy of Arts and Letters. A native New Yorker living in Nashville, Adolphe holds a Master of Music degree in Music Composition from the USC Thornton School of Music and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Cornell University.
Safiya Sinclair was born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica. She is the author of the memoir How to Say Babylon, forthcoming from Simon & Schuster in October 2023. She is also the author of the poetry collection Cannibal, winner of a Whiting Writers’ Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Metcalf Award, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Poetry, the Phillis Wheatley Book Award, and the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. Cannibal was selected as one of the American Library Association’s Notable Books of the Year, and was a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award and the Seamus Heaney First Book Award in the UK, and was longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award and the Dylan Thomas Prize.
Sinclair’s other honors include a Pushcart Prize, fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, Civitella Ranieri Foundation, the Elizabeth George Foundation, MacDowell, Yaddo, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, The Nation, Poetry, Kenyon Review, the Oxford American, and elsewhere.
She received her MFA in poetry at the University of Virginia, and her PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California. She is currently an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Arizona State University.
Hailed by the New York Times for his “robust singing” and Opera News for his “exquisite vocal beauty,” Grammy Award winning Canadian baritone Elliot Madore has established himself as an international artist in demand at the leading opera houses and orchestras of the world. In the 2022-23 season, Mr. Madore’s returned to the Los Angeles Philharmonic to sing Ramón in a semi-staged production of John Adams’ Girls of the Golden West and made his much-anticipated debut with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to sing Messiah under the direction of music director Gustavo Gimeno. Mr. Madore also performed as the baritone soloist in Carmina Burana in a special co-presentation by the Hong Kong Philharmonic and the Hong Kong Ballet, as well as with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Osmo Vänskä, the New World Symphony Orchestra conducted by Patrick Dupré Quigley, and the Oregon Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leo Hussain and made his debut with the Kalamazoo Symphony in Brahms’ Requiem. This season Mr. Madore continues his position as a performing Associate Professor of Voice with the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music faculty.
Highlights of previous seasons at the Metropolitan Opera include performances of Mercutio in a new production of Roméo et Juliette which was broadcast live in HD, Figaro in The Barber of Seville, Schaunard in La bohème, as Lysander in Jeremy Sam’s Baroque pasticcio The Enchanted Island, and Novice’s Friend in Billy Budd. Mr. Madore made his European operatic debut at the Glyndebourne Festival singing Ramiro in L’heure espagnole and Le chat and L’horloge comtoise in a new production of L’enfant et les sortilèges, and returned to the company later to sing the title role in Don Giovanni. He has also been seen in a return to Dutch National Opera for the European debut of John Adams’ Girls of the Golden West as Ramón, in his role debut as Figaro in Manitoba Opera’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia, as the title role in Don Giovanni with Opera Philadelphia and Florida Grand Opera, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, and with the Tanglewood Festival, and as Harlekin in Ariadne auf Naxos with the Bayerische Staatsoper, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, and with the Tanglewood Festival. Additional roles include Anthony in Sweeney Todd and Ramón in the world premiere of Girls of the Golden West with San Francisco Opera, Anthony Hope in Sweeney Todd and Germano in La scala di seta with Opernhaus Zürich, Mercutio in Roméo et Juliette with Santa Fe Opera, his Salzburg Festival debut as the Japanese Envoy in concert performances of Stravinsky’s Le rossignol, Belcore in L’elisir d’amore with Kansas City Opera, and his Dutch National Opera debut as Prince Hérisson de Porc-Epic in Chabrier’s L’étoile which was video recorded.
Honors and awards include being named a winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, a recipient of the 2010 George London Award from the George London Foundation, a winner of the Palm Beach Vocal Competition, and a recipient of the ARIAS Emerging Young Artist Award from Opera Canada. A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, Mr. Madore currently resides duly in Toronto, Canada and Zürich, Switzerland.
Michael Unger is a multiple award-winning performer who appears as a soloist and chamber musician in North America, Europe and Asia. Since 2013, he is the Assistant Professor of Organ and Harpsichord at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He is a First Prize and Audience Prize winner of the National Young Artists’ Competition of the American Guild of Organists (NYACOP), a First Prize winner of the International Organ Competition Musashino-Tokyo, and a Second Prize and Audience Award winner of the International Schnitger Organ Competition on the historic organs of Alkmaar, the Netherlands. Recent solo recitals include performances for the national conventions of the American Guild of Organists and Historical Keyboard Society of North America, Internationale Orgelwoche Nürnberg – Musica Sacra, Suhler Orgelsommer, and numerous international and regional recital series. Recent harpsichord collaborations include Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, Catacoustic Consort, Publick Musick and New York State Baroque, with repertoire including Bach’s complete Brandenburg Concertos and sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord. He received favorable international reviews for his debut solo recordings under the Naxos and Pro Organo labels, and his performances have been broadcast on North American and European radio, including syndicated programs Pipedreams and With Heart and Voice. He is a guest faculty at the 2015 and 2016 Smarano International Academies in Trentino, Italy.
Michael Unger holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the Eastman School of Music, where he was a student and teaching assistant of David Higgs and William Porter. He was a recipient of Eastman’s Performer’s Certificate and the Jerald C. Graue Fellowship, and is also a Gold Medal graduate of the University of Western Ontario. Formerly the Director of Music at Rochester’s Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, he currently serves as organist of Cincinnati’s historic Plum Street Temple.
Since 1989, Robert Porco has led the May Festival Chorus in inspired collaboration and music-making which “shook the rafters” at the Chorus’ most recent Carnegie Hall appearance in 2014. “Carnegie has seldom felt so alive,” according to The New Yorker.
Robert Porco has been recognized as one of the leading choral musicians in the United States and for more than 40 years has been an active preparer and conductor of choral and orchestral works, including most of the major choral repertoire, as well as of opera. In 2011, Mr. Porco received Chorus America’s Michael Korn Founders Award for Development of the Professional Choral Art.
Mr. Porco’s conducting career has spanned geographic venues across western Europe and the U.S., including performances in the Edinburgh Festival; Taipei, Taiwan; Lucerne, Switzerland; and Reykjavík, Iceland; and in the May Festival, Tanglewood Music Festival, Berkshire Music Festival, Blossom Festival and Grant Park Festival. He has been a regular guest conductor at the May Festival since 1991, with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra since 1996 and with The Cleveland Orchestra since 2000.
In 1989, Mr. Porco became Director of Choruses of the May Festival, and in 2010, he led the May Festival Chorus in the highly regarded premiere of Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking, a piece commissioned by the Chorus in honor of Mr. Porco’s 20th season as director. Other notable events during Mr. Porco’s tenure are three highly acclaimed appearances by the Chorus in Carnegie Hall: a 1991 performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah with Jesús López-Cobos and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; a 1995 performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 with Robert Shaw, The Cleveland Orchestra, the May Festival Chorus and other choruses; and an October 2001 performance of Britten’s War Requiem with James Conlon and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. In addition, the May Festival Chorus’ 2008 performance of the Pulitzer Prize-winning On the Transmigration of Souls, under the baton of the composer John Adams, led Mr. Adams to write, “The pure American quality of their enunciation and their perfectly balanced sonorities lifted the matter-of-fact plainness of the words to a transcendental level, and for once the piece did not seem as compromised and uneven as I had previously thought.”
In 1998, Mr. Porco became Director of Choruses for The Cleveland Orchestra, preparing the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus for appearances in Severance Hall and the Blossom Festival and with the Orchestra at the Edinburgh Festival in 1999, at Carnegie Hall in 2002 and at the Lucerne Festival and London Proms in 2005. Mr. Porco’s work during the 2013-14 season included preparing the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus for its debut with the Orchestra in Frankfurt, Paris and Luxembourg.
Mr. Porco has gained national recognition for his preparation of choruses for prominent conductors such as John Adams, Pierre Boulez, James Conlon, Andrew Davis, Christoph von Dohnányi, Paavo Järvi, Erich Kunzel, Louis Langrée, Raymond Leppard, James Levine, Jahja Ling, Jesús López-Cobos, Zubin Mehta, Juanjo Mena, John Nelson, André Previn, Kurt Sanderling, Leonard Slatkin, Robert Shaw, Franz Welser-Möst, John Williams and David Zinman.
Mr. Porco taught doctoral-level choral conducting at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music from 1979 to 1998, and as a guest instructor in 2011 and 2012. A highlight of his tenure at IU included leading a wholly student choral and orchestral ensemble of 250 in a highly-acclaimed performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass as part of the Tanglewood Music Festival’s celebration of the composer’s 70th birthday. As teacher and mentor, Mr. Porco has guided and influenced the development of hundreds of musicians, most of whom are now active as professional conductors, singers or teachers in schools of music, performance ensembles or solo careers. Mr. Porco remains a sought-after guest instructor and coach for conservatory students, young professional conductors and singers. His guest teaching venues have included Harvard University, the University of Miami Frost School of Music and Westminster Choir College (Princeton, NJ). From 1988 to 1998, Mr. Porco was Artistic Director and Conductor of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir.