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Cincinnati May Festival, a 150-year choral tradition, returns to Music Hall

WCPO may festival music hall.png
Posted at 8:55 PM, May 21, 2021

CINCINNATI — On Friday, for the first time in 14 months, Music Hall hosted a choral performance with audience members in the same room.

The Cincinnati May Festival had run uninterrupted for decades before COVID-19 forced organizers to cancel it in 2020. Associate chorus director Matthew Swanson said he and the performers were overjoyed to return in 2021 — even with smaller audiences, masks for singers and performances streaming concurrently online for unvaccinated or anxious music-lovers.

“It’s just a joy to be making music together, particularly choral music and vocal music, with others and with the Cincinnati audience that we love,” Swanson said. "Not just being here on the stage in Music Hall, but being here on the stage and looking out at audience members, which is an unmatched experience and part of what makes live performance a community endeavor."

With five performances over two weekends, organizers hope to give audience members a chance to watch in person without worrying about large crowds.

But even if they choose to stay home and watch remotely, chorus director Robert Porco is happy that the festival returned.

“It’s even more special, in a way, because I’ve been here over 30 years, and for every year I’ve been here, there was a May Festival,” he said. "I know that we are one of the few major choruses in America that is actually singing with an audience — so it's a bold step, I think, but I agreed to it because I was convinced that it was safe."