Orchestra and choirs on stage at the Cincinnati May Festival (photo by JP Leong)

Cincinnati’s May Festival Celebrates 150th Anniversary

The Queen City’s annual spring choral music tradition marks a milestone year in 2023. 

Since 1873, the Cincinnati May Festival has celebrated choral music in what has become known as “The City That Sings.” Held at Cincinnati’s historic Music Hall, the annual two-week choral festival returns May 19 through 27 for its 150th anniversary, inviting a selection of guest musicians from around the world to perform during the event. 

This year features 20 guest performers, including 16 who are making their May Festival debut. The festival will conclude with Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand,” a collaboration between the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Cincinnati Boychoir, Cincinnati Youth Choir and both May Festival chorus groups. 

“[‘Symphony of a Thousand’] doesn’t come up often in the rest of the musical world,” says Robert Porco, director of choruses for the May Festival. “We have done it a number of times on special occasions. It is a very big piece that actually calls for two choruses.”

For 2023, the May Festival will also celebrate its commissioning legacy and Cincinnati’s choral history with a new project, “25 for 25: A New Time for Choral Music.” Twenty-five pieces written by composers from the Luna Composition Lab will be performed by local musicians throughout the spring.

“We have 25 different people who don’t know each other outside our rehearsals or concerts,” Porco says. “What brings them all together is music and there is no fear and anxiety for them. The reward is the pleasure of music.”

For more information and the full lineup of May Festival performances, visit mayfestival.com.