Director of Choruses Robert Porco to Conclude His Remarkable 35-Season Tenure in the 2023-24 Season
CINCINNATI, OH (February 15, 2023)—The Cincinnati May Festival has announced that Director of Choruses Robert Porco will conclude his remarkable 35-season tenure with the May Festival in the 2023-24 season, after which he will be named Director of Choruses Emeritus.
Recognized as one of the leading choral musicians in the United States, Robert Porco has been an active preparer and conductor of choral and orchestral works for more than 40 years. During his time as Director of Choruses for the May Festival, Porco also served as the Director of Choruses for the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus (1998-2017); Artistic Director and Conductor of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir (1988-1998); professor of doctoral-level choral conducting (1979-1998, guest professor 2011-2012) and Chair of the Choral Department (1980-1998) at the prestigious Indiana University Jacobs School of Music; and in a variety of roles, including Director of Choral Activities, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of Music (1967-1980).
Choruses under Porco’s leadership have performed all over the globe, including performances in Edinburgh, Scotland; Taipei, Taiwan; Lucerne, Switzerland; and Reykjavík, Iceland, and domestically at the May Festival, Tanglewood Music Festival, Berkshire Music Festival, Blossom Festival, and Grant Park Festival. In 2011, Porco received Chorus America’s highest honor, the Michael Korn Founders Award for Development of the Professional Choral Art; and in 2021 and 2022, the May Festival, with the May Festival Chorus as its core artistic element, was named “One of the Best Classical Music Festivals in the U.S. and Canada” by BBC Magazine.
Robert Porco is the longest-tenured Director of Choruses in the history of the 150-year-old May Festival. He has worked with more than 1,300 individual singers of the May Festival Chorus and prepared 532 distinct choral works, spanning an enormous range of repertoire, for 170 May Festival concerts, 26 of which Porco conducted. Notable events during Porco’s tenure include highly-acclaimed appearances by the Chorus at Carnegie Hall: a 1991 performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah with Jesús López-Cobos and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO); a 1995 performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 with Robert Shaw, The Cleveland Orchestra, the May Festival Chorus and other choruses; a 2001 performance of Britten’s War Requiem with then May Festival Music Director James Conlon and the CSO; and a 2014 performance of Dett’s The Ordering of Moses with Conlon and the CSO, as part of the Spring for Music Festival. 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 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.” Robert Porco was also responsible for the popular a capella recording, Christmas with the May Festival Chorus, for which he prepared and conducted the Chorus.
“It is hard to imagine our May Festival, and especially our May Festival Chorus, without Bob Porco at the helm,” said May Festival Principal Conductor Juanjo Mena. “I have said this on many occasions, but I will never forget the first time I conducted the May Festival Chorus in Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé. The Chorus' vocal power, musicality, and responsiveness impressed me from the very first minute, and this is a testament to the strongest of leadership, meticulous preparation and musicianship that we have been so fortunate to have in Bob Porco. Bob and I have since enjoyed many outstanding performances together—from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion to Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. We now embark on one of our most exciting challenges yet, our forthcoming Mahler Symphony No. 8, Symphony of a Thousand, which will bring our 150th anniversary celebrations to a close. I have been grateful that both our artistic relationship and our friendship have grown over my tenure as Principal Conductor. I am indebted to you, dear Bob!”
“I would like to salute Robert Porco on this occasion, as one of the great choral directors that the United States has produced. As he makes his transition from Director of the May Festival Chorus to Director Emeritus, I would like to bear witness to his exceptional work, of which Cincinnati has had the great fortune to be the primary beneficiary,” said May Festival Music Director Laureate James Conlon. “Of the many decisions I had to make in my 37 years as Music Director of the May Festival, engaging Bob was the most important and the one of which I am most proud. His many decades of guiding the Chorus has been testimony to his exceptional artistry and leadership. I am very happy that his association with the May Festival and the city of Cincinnati will continue in a new form.”
In addition to the May Festival, Porco has also prepared the Chorus for 130 concerts with the CSO and Cincinnati Pops during the Orchestra’s subscription seasons and summer performances at the Riverbend Music Center. Recently in September 2022, Porco prepared the May Festival Chorus for Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, Resurrection, with the CSO conducted by the Orchestra’s Music Director Louis Langrée. The performances marked the official start of the May Festival’s year-long 150th anniversary celebration.
“Robert Porco has been a steadfast partner to me and the CSO through his exemplary work with the May Festival Chorus,” said Langrée. “His commitment to excellence and the discipline it takes to achieve it is second to none. I am very grateful to have worked with Bob on some of the most memorable performances of my tenure, and I look forward to more collaborations with Bob and the Chorus in my final season as Music Director of the CSO.”
Porco’s impact in the choral community runs deep. Beloved by the Chorus for his musicianship, work ethic, and clever wit, members of the Chorus raised funds to commission Stephen Paulus’ All Things Are Passing for Porco’s 15th anniversary with the Chorus and Ian Krouse’s Out of the Cradle, Endlessly Rocking for his 20th anniversary. Chorus members and alumni also commissioned a portrait of Robert Porco by artist James Effler for Porco’s 25th Anniversary. The portrait is located in the North Hall of Music Hall. Furthermore, to acknowledge Porco’s dedication to the Chorus, for which he drives nearly eight hours roundtrip every week from the Cleveland area to Cincinnati for rehearsals and performances, Chorus members worked with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) to adopt a portion of Interstate 71 in Porco’s name, so he would be greeted by a sign with his name on it as he approached Cincinnati.
“Bob Porco’s impact on the May Festival and May Festival Chorus will forever be a part of our legacy,” stated May Festival Executive Director Steven Sunderman. “We are able to celebrate the May Festival’s 150th anniversary in 2023 in large part because of Bob, his love for music, and his unwavering devotion to the people who make up the May Festival community. We are forever grateful for Bob’s leadership and friendship and look forward to celebrating his incredible legacy in the 2023-24 season.”
The search for Porco’s successor is underway, led by the May Festival Artistic Advisory Committee comprised of individuals from the May Festival Board, Chorus, administrative staff, and the CSO.
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.