Cincinnati Symphony’s May Festival May 17-25

April 8, 2024

Julia Wolfe named Inaugural Festival Director of
Cincinnati Symphony’s

2024 May Festival
May 17-25

Concerts include the world premiere of Wolfe’s new choral fanfare All that breathes, her recent works with orchestra, Her Story and Pretty, as well as her Pulitzer Prize-winning work for chorus and ensemble, Anthracite Fields; plus Michael Gordon’s Natural History and David Lang’s the national anthems; with special guests the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Lorelei Ensemble, and Steiger Butte Singers joining the Cincinnati Symphony and May Festival Chorus.

“I am thrilled to be working with the forward-looking May Festival Chorus and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra to bring powerful musical narratives to the historic May Festival. Pairing new with old, the works resonate together across time and space to share the powerful vehicle of music—expressing who we were and who we are today.”
— Julia Wolfe

he Cincinnati Symphony has invited Julia Wolfe to be the inaugural Festival Director of the 2024 May Festival. Concerts will feature the world premiere of Wolfe’s All that breathes, a new choral fanfare commissioned by the Festival, alongside her compositions Her StoryPretty and Anthracite Fields; plus works by her longtime collaborators and Bang on a Can co-founders Michael Gordon and David Lang, as well as treasured works from the repertoire.

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (Louis Langrée, music director) and May Festival Chorus will be conducted by Teddy Abrams, Stephanie Childress, François López-Ferrer and May Festival Chorus director, Robert Porco. Featured guests include soprano Camilla Tilling, tenor Nicholas Phan, and ensembles Bang on a Can All-Stars, the Lorelei Ensemble (Beth Willer, artistic director), the Steiger Butte Singers of Chiloquin, Oregon, and the May Festival Youth Chorus (Matthew Swanson, director). The May Festival will also pay tribute to Porco’s 35-year tenure as Director of Choruses.


  • Franz Joseph Haydn’s oratorio The Creation. Soprano Camilla Tilling and tenor Nicholas Phan join the Chorus and Orchestra for this performance of one of Haydn’s masterpieces.


  • World premiere of Wolfe’s All that breathes, commissioned by the May Festival, the work embraces the massive sound of collective breath and exhalation.
  • The US premiere of David Lang’s 2023 orchestral version of the national anthems, for which the composer compiled lines and concepts from all of the world’s national anthems to find one major commonality: a desire for freedom, and fear of the ease by which it can be lost.
  • Wolfe’s Pretty, a raw and raucous anthem of work rhythms, thwarting notions of what pretty can mean.
  • Ralph Vaughan Williams’ plea for peace: Dona nobis pacem


  • Michael Gordon’s Natural History, composed in close collaboration with the Steiger Butte Singers—an extended family of performers and singers from Chiloquin, Oregon—in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. The work premiered in 2016 on the rim of Crater Lake in Oregon. Drawing upon the Steiger Butte Singers’ musical and cultural contributions, as well as Gordon’s own explorations of the lake’s ecology and history, Natural History reflects on both the unique American relationship with nature (through the words of Henry David Thoreau) and the artistic and cultural heritage of the people who have stewarded the land for millennia.
  • The program continues with Wolfe’s 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio Anthracite Fields, which honors the workers of the Pennsylvania Anthracite coal region at a time when the industry fueled the nation, and the complicated legacy of the industry and its toll on the workers and environment. The piece consists of five movements, each based on a source text describing a way the coal industry affected life in America on a local and national scale. Anthracite Fields features the May Festival Chorus, who are joined by the Bang on a Can All-Stars.


  • The 2024 May Festival culminates with Wolfe’s oratorio Her Story, which invokes the words of historical figures and the spirit of pivotal moments to pay tribute to the centuries of ongoing struggle for equal rights, representation and access to democracy for women in America. The piece incorporates text from throughout history of women’s fight for equality, ranging from a letter written by Abigail Adams to words attributed to Sojourner Truth, from public attacks directed at women protesting for the right to vote to political satire. The dynamic vocal artists of the all-female Lorelei Ensemble join the CSO for this immersive and visual presentation with staging by Anne Kauffman.
  • The program concludes with Fauré’s Requiem, which depicts death as a peaceful and glorious transcendence into everlasting paradise.