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As someone who loves this community, I think the May Festival is as close to the core of Cincinnati’s true identity as any experience we offer. Since1873, each May Festival has lifted the spirits of music lovers and even those who don’t understand all the nuances. If you want to understand the character of Cincinnati, attend the May Festival.

Dan Hurley
Cincinnati Post

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Timeline

The May Festival Continues to Make History

2002 marks the historic Beethoven, Bernstein & Brotherhood season, in which all five concert programs include works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Leonard Bernstein, who served as the Honorary Music Director of the Festival in 1973, and works that reflect the African-American history and experience.  The Central State University Chorus performs gospel music and joins forces with the May Festival Chorus for heartfelt performances of Adolphus Hailstork's Done Made My Vow and Beethoven's Symphony No. 9.  Jamie Bernstein Thomas, the daughter of the late Leonard Bernstein, narrates her father's Symphony No. 3, Kaddish, with a newly revised text.

The 2003 season celebrates the 125th anniversary of Music Hall, which had been built for the Festival in 1878.  The season includes the world premiere of the extant music from St. Stanislaus, the recently discovered oratorio by Franz Liszt, and a memorable presentation of Benjamin Britten's Noye's Fludde at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption.  Renowned opera singer James Morris returns to the May Festival for the first time since 1986 to perform Verdi's Messa da Requiem and the title role in Mendelssohn's Elijah.

In the fall, the May Festival Chorus hosts its first annual Choral Workshop, where members of the Greater Cincinnati community  rehearse and sing great works with Robert Porco and the May Festival Chorus.

2004 is a year of milestones.  Music Director James Conlon, who has led more May Festivals than any other director in the history of the Festival, celebrates his 25th anniversary. The May Festival commissions a portrait by renowned artist Muli Tang to honor the occasion, which is unveiled in 2005 and now on display at Music Hall.

Director of Choruses Robert Porco also celebrates his 15th anniversary. The May Festival Chorus commissions All Things Are Passing by Richard Paulus to mark his anniversary, and performs the work at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption.

The season includes the triumphant return of world-renowned soprano Deborah Voigt, who dazzles May Festival audiences for the first time since 1993. She performs the role of Sieglinde in Act I of Richard Wagner's Die Walkure. On the same program, James Morris returns to perform the role of Hans Sachs in sections of Die Meistersinger. The special anniversary season closes with James Conlon conducting Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand.

The May Festival's world premiere recording of Franz Liszt's St. Stanislaus, released early in 2004 by Telarc, is awarded the 30th International F. Liszt Record Grand Prix by the Liszt Society of Budapest.  The recording is made possible by generous support from The Corbett Foundation, Harry & Linda Fath, and the H.B., E.W., F.R. Luther Charitable Foundation.

The May Festival is also inducted into the Greater Cincinnati International Hall of Fame for fostering “a spirit of internationalism, promoting a positive image of our region, and demonstrating a sincere commitment to enhancing the quality of life for our community.”

The 2005 May Festival marks the historic reunion between James Conlon and James Levine, who served as the Festival’s music director from 1974 to 1978.  A Cincinnati native, Maestro Levine conducts the May Festival forces for the first time since 1980, leading a stirring performance of the Berlioz Requiem.

The season also features soprano Deborah Voigt and tenor Ben Heppner, two of the world’s most celebrated opera singers, performing for the first time together in act II from Wagner’s magnificent Tristan & Isolde.

The 2006 May Festival opens with the world premiere of Adolphus Hailstork’s EarthRise, a work commissioned by the Festival.  The Brazeal Dennard Chorale from Detroit joins James Conlon, the May Festival Chorus and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for what The Cincinnati Enquirer describes as a “song of brotherhood.”

To commemorate the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, the season includes a concert presentation of the composer’s sparking comic opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio, with acclaimed actor of stage and screen Michael York narrating.

The 2007 May Festival, for the first time in its 134 year history, collaborates with the Cincinnati Art Museum to produce a multimedia concert experience with the Festival premier of Berlioz’ L’enfance du Christ. Projections of stunning depictions of the Nativity, assembled by the Museum, enhance the story as it unfolds through Berlioz’ music. Another “first” is the introduction of supertitles at each of the Festival’s Music Hall concerts.

Soprano Angela Brown and tenor Salvatore Licitra lead a cast of world class soloists in the 2008 May Festival opening night performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Forza del Destino. A record twentieth May Festival performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 is paired with a poignant work by 20th century composer, Eric Zeisl. May Festival Youth Chorus Director James Bagwell celebrates his tenth May Festival anniversary.

The 2009 Season was a landmark for the Cincinnati May Festival as it honored James Conlon’s 30th anniversary as the Festival’s world renowned Music Director. James Conlon has captivated May Festival audiences with his artistic leadership for more festivals than any other Music Director in the Festival’s 136-year history. The 2009 Festival featured important artist debuts, substantial works and vast choral and orchestral forces. Broadway legend Patti LuPone made her May Festival debut performing Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins on opening night. Another “first” for the Festival was the performance of the Mahler Symphony No. 8 by the combined voices of the May Festival Chorus and the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, under the direction of Robert Porco.