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Spotlight on... Juanjo Mena


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Cincinnati attracts the best and brightest musicians from around the world, so it was only fitting that following an extensive, global search, the Cincinnati May Festival announced in October of 2016 that Juanjo Mena would serve as the Principal Conductor for three years, starting this season. He also serves as Chief Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester, United Kingdom.

Juanjo, who hails from Spain, made his Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducting debut in 2012 and, with his extraordinary artistic sensitivity and podium presence, immediately became both a musician and audience favorite. He has led the CSO in programs six out of the last seven seasons, including memorable concerts in April of 2016 featuring Manuel de Falla’s La vida breve with the May Festival Chorus, which was hailed as a “performance of mesmerizing power,” and in October of 2016, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, also with the May Festival Chorus. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, “Mena summoned a universe of colors and moods in his forces. The Cincinnati Symphony musicians responded to his direction with fine playing.”


“I remember very well the first time I worked with the CSO—it was special, as the orchestra made me feel very comfortable,” said Juanjo. “I found in them a huge positive energy, and we could immediately start to make music together to a high level. I felt at home, especially as there were some musicians in the orchestra with whom I’d already worked. It is also true—when I conducted Daphnis et Chloé in Cincinnati, that is when I fell in love with the May Festival Chorus and when our story together began.”

Juanjo’s Cincinnati debut as Principal Conductor of the May Festival on May 25 includes Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, as well as the North American premiere of Credo by James MacMillan, a composer known for his transcendent, often spiritual works. The yearlong celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday is also part of this year’s May Festival and includes on this same program the Chichester Psalms, featuring countertenor David Daniels. Gabrieli’s joyful Magnificat à 33, which has never been performed at the May Festival, opens the program.

The 2018 Festival opens with a performance of the Verdi Requiem on May 18, and on May 19, Robert Porco leads a highly-anticipated, once-in-a generation performance of the Bernstein Mass.


The 2018 May Festival closes with Juanjo conducting Handel’s Messiah, but with a twist. He has invited the Cincinnati community to join the May Festival Chorus, creating a surround-sound effect in the auditorium.

According to Juanjo, “If you enjoy singing at home to relax while you prepare your meals, or in the car on the way to work, we would love for you to join us in the exciting process of rehearsing and performing selected movements from this masterpiece.”


Founded in 1873, the May Festival is the oldest continuous choral festival in the Americas, and Cincinnati Music Hall was built for the May Festival in 1878. “I am honored to have been named Principal Conductor of the venerable institution—to be gifted the opportunity to make unforgettable music together with the voices of our community.”


In advance of his exciting debut performances as the May Festival Principal Conductor in May, Juanjo leads the CSO in concerts on February 2 and 3 of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7, Leningrad, and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 featuring Javier Perianes. These mark his fi rst performances conducting at Music Hall following an historic renovation.

When asked where he seeks and finds inspiration, Juanjo told Fanfare Cincinnati, “Life! Every second, every word, every glance, my family, my children, and every orchestral musician who gives everything they have in order to search for the best music-making.”

—Chris Pinelo