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May Festival

It’s that special, tiny sliver of the year when everybody stretches. When hundreds of amateur singers accelerate the tempo by devoting every night to rehearsal and every day to thoughts of the concerts to come; when the Cincinnati Symphony doubles its concentration and its output by packing more works into fewer rehearsals than any other time of the year; when audiences look their finest, clap their loudest. It’s May Festival time, two highly concentrated weekends in an otherwise sensible season when Cincinnati concentrates with ferver on the monuments of the choral repertoire and reflects on a proud musical tradition that stretches back more than a century.

Nancy Malitz, Music Critic
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Who We Are

The May Festival is the oldest continuous choral festival in the Western Hemisphere and one of the only true choral festivals that remains in our country today. Featuring the May Festival Chorus and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Festival presents concentrated choral repertoire rarely found during the concert season. Five unique concerts are performed over two weekends, resulting in a magnificent array of choral masterpieces and little known gems that provide an unusual choral experience for audience and performers alike.

Established in 1873, the May Festival is directly responsible for the development of Cincinnati’s modern musical life. Music Hall, the city’s primary concert venue, was built specifically to house the Festival's performances in 1878, and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the fifth oldest orchestra in the United States, can trace its lineage back to this great tradition. The prestigious roster of May Festival Music Directors has included, among others, Theodore Thomas, Max Rudolf and James Levine. Current Music Director, James Conlon, has served since 1979 and has provided the artistic leadership for more May Festivals than any other Music Director in the Festival’s 141-year history. Learn more about the history of the May Festival.

In addition to the valuable outreach performances of the May Festival Chorus and Youth Chorus, the May Festival presents educational programs featuring world-class guest artists. Recent programs have included master classes for aspiring singers taught by established operatic performers, as well as guest lectures and demonstrations presented by renowned composers in area schools.

Inducted into the Greater Cincinnati International Hall of Fame in 2004, the May Festival has earned critical acclaim both nationally and internationally and attracts serious music lovers from all over the world.