Glowing opener to May Festival season

James Conlon

In the beginning, there was chaos. And out of chaos came light.

When the May Festival Chorus burst upon the words, "and there was light," at the opening of "The Creation," Music Hall seemed to be suddenly flooded with sunshine. That warm atmosphere continued to the very last note of Haydn's oratorio, "The Creation," which opened the May Festival season on Friday.

The Cincinnati May Festival welcomed spring with Haydn's masterpiece based on the creation story found in Genesis and Milton's "Paradise Lost." The renowned choral festival has revisited this oratorio several times over its 142-year history. But what lingered long after the final "amen" of this performance was a lightness and freshness of spirit that echoed the music and words of Haydn's finest achievement.

The chorus and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra were conducted by James Conlon, who was cheered by the audience as he begins his penultimate year as music director. Perhaps for this reason, every note had meaning, and Conlon's tempos conveyed a kind of relaxed joy. He brought out the humor of Haydn's pictorial music, while balancing moments of choral fervor against others that were deeply reflective.

The 60-piece orchestra (with Michael Chertock playing harpsichord) played with rich character, particularly in the two big orchestral moments. In the opening of Part III, Conlon put down his baton to lead a stunning orchestral depiction of Adam and Eve's first sunrise.

We were left with Haydn's glorious choruses ringing in our ears in the brilliant finale, "Sing the Lord, Ye Voices All." With listeners on their feet, three tiny flower girls delivered their bouquets to the soloists. The evening ended on an unusual note for the season opener: Conlon led an audience sing-along of Handel's "Hallelujah" Chorus. 
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