mf generic header image 2016 (FILEminimizer).jpg

Greetings from the Music Director


Greetings from the Music Director


Dear Friends,
I customarily write a foreword in the program book for each May Festival, highlighting the programs and events for that particular year. This year, however, is special, as I leave the position of Music Director of May Festival—a position I have enjoyed for 37 years. I want to take this opportunity to reflect on those years with gratitude for the wonderful and memorable performances of so much extraordinary music. I will look back with pride as I consider what we have, together, accomplished during that time.

As this year’s May Festival comes to a close, it leaves, temporarily, its made-to-order home: one of America’s oldest and finest concert venues, Music Hall. When it returns, my hope is that it brings back to its refurbished home the sense of tradition and artistic values that have been the Festival’s hallmark; it is a meaningful reflection of Cincinnati’s commitment to classical music, one that has always been inherent to the Festival and to the city’s history.

I am grateful to the people, and especially to James Levine, who brought me here in 1978, affording me the opportunity to collaborate with hundreds of members of the May Festival Chorus and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, many of whom are still active today. I am thankful to them for the years of music-making dedicated to the extraordinary body of classical choral repertory. And, I am grateful to the generations of Cincinnatians who have supported and nurtured the Festival.

I look back with pride on the fact that May Festival has maintained a principled attitude toward that tradition in the face of a changing society. It has upheld standards of performance and programming in the face of pressures to compromise. I am gratified that the Festival, by its continuing existence, has implicitly defended the role of non-professional choirs. I am proud that it has been a showcase for many of the leading concert and opera singers over the last 37 years, many of whom performed on the stage of Music Hall before being celebrated throughout the
rest of the world.

The May Festival, in my experience, is virtually unique. Nowhere in the U.S. can one find anything comparable to the concentrated, annual joining of forces of professional musicians, highly skilled non-professional singers, and international soloists performing in one of America’s most beautiful concert halls for more than 140 years.

The Festival embodies a substantial, Cincinnati-exclusive contribution to America’s classical music profile. It has given Cincinnatians, and those who travel here especially for the Festival, a yearly opportunity to celebrate a vital tradition.

In an era of instant communication and dissemination of ideas, characterized by an accelerated pace of life and an influx of novelty, classics and tradition may seem expendable. Whatever changes the May Festival may consider in its future, it will enhance that very future by respecting its core tradition as the foundation on which to devise change.

These principles, that are a source of community pride, have sustained and nourished the unique and extraordinary
Cincinnati May Festival over generations, and they should be maintained.

I have had the honor of leading May Festival for over three-and-a-half decades, and I feel deep appreciation for those who have supported this effort. With gratitude for that past, and hopes for the future, I thank you all, performers and public alike, for your generosity of spirit and for the pleasure you have afforded me in making music with you, and for you, all these years.

Best Wishes,

James Conlon