Cincinnati May Festival Announces Complete Details for its 150th Anniversary Season

World Premieres to Include Works by Composers Julia Adolphe, Olivia Bennett, James Lee III and James MacMillan 

Guest Artists to Include Sopranos Robin Johannsen, Laquita Mitchell, Berit Norbakken, Erica Petrocelli, Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha, Lauren Snouffer, Camilla Tilling, Sara Wegener; Mezzo-Sopranos Briana Hunter, Marianne Beate Kielland, Kate Lindsey; Tenors Barry Banks, Joshua Blue, Rodrick Dixon, Toby Spence; Baritones José Antonio López and Reginald Smith, Jr.; Basses Christian Immler, Nicholas Newton and Michael Sumuel

Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Cincinnati Boychoir and Cincinnati Youth Choir and May Festival Youth Chorus to Augment the May Festival Chorus for Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand

Cincinnati May Festival Announces Local Artist and Choral Ensemble Participants for 25 for 25: A New Time for Choral Music Commissioning Project with Luna Composition Lab

VIEW PDF Version

CINCINNATI, OH (November 3, 2022)—The Cincinnati May Festival has announced complete details for its 150th anniversary in 2023, including programs and featured soloists for performances in April and May 2023 and local artist and ensemble participants for its 25 for 25: A New Time for Choral Music commissioning project.

“Surely it is not possible that in 1873, when a group of visionaries came up with the idea of presenting choral music festivals in Cincinnati, that they could have imagined that this gesture could reach its 150th anniversary!” remarked Juanjo Mena, Principal Conductor for the May Festival. “I am very excited that we can now share with you the full details for the 150th anniversary Cincinnati May Festival.”

Anchored by the May Festival Chorus and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO), the May Festival will present four performances over two weekends in Music Hall (May 19, 20, 25 and 27, 2023).

On Friday, May 19, 2023, the May Festival Chorus and Principal Conductor Juanjo Mena will be joined by sopranos Berit Norbakken and Robin Johannsen, mezzo-soprano Marianne Beate Kielland, tenor Toby Spence, and bass Christian Immler for Johann Sebastian Bach’s Magnificat, a piece which received its American premiere at the May Festival in 1875. Continuing the Festival’s longstanding tradition of commissioning and premiering new music, this program will also include the world premieres of Timotheus, Bacchus and Cecilia by James MacMillan, former May Festival Creative Partner, and Breaths of Universal Longings by James Lee III, both May Festival commissions written for the May Festival Chorus and May Festival Youth Chorus for the anniversary season.

“I don’t think there could be any better way of opening the 2023 Festival than with a concert featuring Bach’s joyous Magnificat,” said Mena. “Receiving its U.S. premiere at the 1875 May Festival, it unites us with all the generations of Cincinnatians that have experienced our wonderful Festival since its earliest years. Of course, we have so much else to offer you, and I am particularly looking forward to conducting the world premieres of James MacMillan’s Timotheus, Bacchus and Cecilia and James Lee III’s Breaths of Universal Longings, both commissioned by the May Festival to precede our performance of Bach’s Magnificat. I also look forward to welcoming Marin Alsop to conduct works by Barber, Dett and Copland at the May Festival, and of course, to welcoming back James Conlon, as he takes to the podium for Mozart’s Requiem.”

Conductor Marin Alsop will make her May Festival debut on Saturday, May 20, 2023 in an all-American program that includes excerpts from R. Nathaniel Dett’s The Ordering of Moses, which received its world premiere at the May Festival in 1937; Samuel Barber’s Symphony No. 1 in One Movement; Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 with soprano Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha; and Aaron Copland’s “The Promise of Living” from The Tender Land. Featured soloists for The Ordering of Moses will include soprano Laquita Mitchell, mezzo-soprano Briana Hunter, tenor Rodrick Dixon, and bass Nicholas Newton.

On Thursday, May 25, 2023, May Festival Music Director Laureate James Conlon, will lead a new work by composer Julia Adolphe, whose music Conlon has long championed. This will be Adolphe’s third work written for the May Festival Chorus. The program will conclude with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem, which received its first May Festival performance in 1882; it was not performed again for a century until Conlon programmed it in 1982. Featured soloists for this season’s performance will include soprano Erica Petrocelli, mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey, tenor Joshua Blue, and bass Michael Sumuel.

Mena returns to the podium for May Festival’s grand finale on Saturday, May 27, 2023, leading the combined forces of five choruses, eight soloists, and the CSO in Gustav Mahler’s monumental Symphony No. 8, Symphony of a Thousand. Continuing May Festival’s legacy of performing Mahler symphonies, this presentation will join the ranks of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, which received its American premiere at the May Festival in 1914, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 which received its American premiere with the CSO in 1905. Earlier this season, the May Festival Chorus performed Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with the CSO under the direction of Music Director Louis Langrée, marking the official full chorus, full orchestra, and full-capacity audience return to Music Hall.

“As Mahler said about his mighty Eighth Symphony, ‘Try to imagine the whole universe beginning to ring and resound. There are no longer human voices, but planets and suns revolving.’ It is one of the largest-scale works for orchestra and chorus to have been written; the vast forces that are required means that it is rarely performed,” explained Mena.

A symphony with a substantial choral component, Mahler considered his Symphony of a Thousand “…a ‘pure’ symphony in which the most beautiful instrument in the world is given its true place.” For this performance, the May Festival Chorus will be augmented by the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus directed by Lisa Wong; May Festival Youth Chorus directed by Matthew Swanson; Cincinnati Youth Choir directed by Robyn Lana; and Cincinnati Boychoir directed by Jason Holmes. Featured soloists will include sopranos Sara Wegener, Camilla Tilling and Lauren Snouffer, mezzo-sopranos Kate Lindsey and Briana Hunter, tenor Barry Banks, and baritone José Antonio López and bass Reginald Smith, Jr.

“Audiences will be in for a treat, hearing it in the magnificent acoustic of Music Hall, to close our 150th anniversary celebrations,” said Mena. “We are lucky to be joined by simply the best line-ups of soloists. It is sure to be a special end to our 2023 Festival. I hope everyone can join me, the May Festival Chorus, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and our guest soloists, conductors and choruses as Music Hall will resound with the sound of the May Festival, celebrating 150 years of this incredible choral tradition!”

In addition to the Festival, the May Festival’s traditional spring concert of sacred music will take place on Saturday, April 1, 2023 at Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church. Director of Choruses Robert Porco will lead the May Festival Chamber Choir and the CSO in George Frideric Handel’s Dettingen Te Deum, the first work ever performed at a May Festival concert. Matthew Swanson will conduct the May Festival Youth Chorus in a program that includes the world premiere of a 25 for 25 commission from award-winning composer Olivia Bennett.

 “The enthusiasm is high within the May Festival Chorus, the schedule is rich in activities, and we are very much looking forward to the 2023 May Festival,” said Porco. “In October of 2021, after a 19-month pause due to Covid, our eagerly returning members were joined by 28 new singers. That momentum continued into this season with the addition of 24 new members, for this, our 150th Anniversary season. In total, we have 127 members in the Chorus this season, one of the largest in recent years. The May Festival Chorus is soaring! We have a lot to celebrate, and I hope to see everyone at our performances.”

Subscriptions for the May Festival’s 150th anniversary season are on sale now. Tickets to individual performances go on sale beginning March 1, 2023. Tickets may be purchased by visiting, calling the ticket office at 513.381.3300 or visiting the Music Hall Box Office at 1241 Elm Street, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.



In honor of the May Festival’s commissioning legacy and in celebration of Cincinnati as one of America’s choral epicenters, the May Festival has launched its 25 for 25: A New Time for Choral Music commissioning project, where composers from Luna Composition Lab will write 25 new choral works for local artist and choral ensembles across Greater Cincinnati.

Founded in 2016 by composers Missy Mazzoli and Ellen Reid, Luna Composition Lab provides mentorship, education, and resources for young female, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming composers ages 13-18. The only initiative of its kind in the United States, it has achieved national recognition as a program that not only celebrates underrepresented voices but also shapes music’s future by providing a support system for continued success.

Participating local artist, ensembles and composers in the May Festival’s 25 for 25: A New Time for Choral Music commissioning project include:

Local Artist/Ensemble


Cincinnati Boychoir

Gabriella Cariddo

Cincinnati Camerata

Madeline Cheng

Cincinnati Choral Academy

Violet Barnum

Cincinnati Men’s Chorus

Caleb Palka

Cincinnati Youth Choir

Ebun Oguntola

CinKoa: Cincinnati Korean Choir

Yuri Lee

Classical Roots Community Chorus

Jordan Millar

Hear Us, Hear Them

Rachel Mugemancuro

Heri et Hodie

Azalea Twining

Little Miami Chorale

KiMani Bridges

May Festival Youth Chorus

Olivia Bennett

MUSE: Cincinnati Women’s Choir

Anya Lagman

No Promises Vocal Band

Cecelia Olszewski

Northern Kentucky Community Chorus

Sage Shurman

Northern Kentucky University Chamber Choir

Chloe Villamayor

School for the Creative and Performing Arts Chorale and Concert Choir

Abby Harris

St. Ursula Academy Vocal Ensemble

Jack Gjaja

Thomas More University Choir

Elisa Johnson

Tron and World House Choir

Michelle David

University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Chorale

Zola Saadi-Klein

Ursuline Academy Choir

Devon Lee

Voices of Indiana

Alicia Erlandson

World House Choir and Jeremy Winston Chorale

Tiffany Cuaresma

Xavier University Choir

Maya Miro Johnson

Young Professionals Choral Collective

Joanna McDonald

The new works will be premiered by local choral ensembles throughout the region in Spring 2023; individual concert details are to be announced. In addition, the May Festival will present a free Community Choral Showcase on Sunday, March 19 at Christ Church Cathedral, which will include 21 of the commissioned pieces from the project. More information can be found at

“Commissions and premieres have been a consistent feature of the May Festival since its founding in 1873,” said Swanson. “We look forward to these exciting, diverse, and unique new works, all written by exceptional composers from across the country and premiered by choral and vocal artists from our own community.”

“The original May Festivals were comprised of local singing societies coming together to unite and share their unique talents to present choral music to the region,” said Steven Sunderman, Executive Director of the May Festival. “With hundreds of choirs and tens of thousands of singers, Cincinnati remains the ‘City that Sings,’ and the May Festival is proud to celebrate its first 150 years in this great community with choirs and singers who continue to connect and inspire us with all of the dynamic and diverse cultural expressions choral music has to offer.”