Mahler 8th conductor drops out

Mahler 8th conductor drops out


norman lebrecht

May 25, 2023

Cincinnati’s May Festival has lost a driving force at two days’ notice:

Principal Conductor Juanjo Mena has been forced to withdraw from the performance of Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand on MAY 27 due to a family emergency. May Festival Music Director Laureate James Conlon will step in for rehearsals and this final performance of the May Festival 150th Anniversary season.
We appreciate your understanding.



  • A piece of Mahler's says:

    Very sorry to hear this. Juanjo Mena is an excellent, underrated conductor, and this would have been a fitting cap to the excellent work he’s done at the May Festival.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    Mena is excellent; so is Conlon. I hope the family emergency ends well for all.

  • Evan Tucker says:

    Poor Mena just can’t cut a break.

    He’s such an excellent musician. He deserves a major appointment. Somewhere.

  • NotToneDeaf says:

    They’re in far better hands with the masterful James Conlon. He knows this rep backwards and forwards.


      No need to cast aspersions on Maestro Mena. It’s uncalled for. (Full disclosure: I have neither professional nor personal links with him.) But Maestro Conlon is indeed one of the finer choices to render services under such conditions. I have indeed seen Maestro Conlon at work. He is magnificent.

    • SlippedChat says:

      Without commenting on NotToneDeaf’s assertion that a Mahler 8 in Conlon’s “hands” will be better than if Mena (this Festival’s Principal Conductor) had instead conducted it as originally scheduled . . .

      Cincinnati May Festival, which began in the 1870s, focuses on choral music (everything from oratorios to operatic scenes and arias with a substantial choral component), using the Cincinnati Symphony and a large and excellent community chorus (or, as in the Mahler 8th, several of them).

      Conlon was the Festival’s music director for 37 years and is indeed experienced with the Mahler 8, having conducted it in that hall and with that orchestra quite a few times (if memory serves, every five years or so) during his tenure.

      In this case of Mena’s sudden withdrawal, it was also convenient that Conlon was already in Cincinnati to conduct the Festival’s Mozart Requiem.

      Months ago, this Mahler 8 was announced as a free livestream. Then someone made the decision to change the livestream to last week’s Bach Magnificat. I was disappointed by that change, although others may not be.

    • trumpetherald says:

      In fact,very tone deaf. Both are fine,but Menja is a far more interesting musician.

  • Bill Nerenberg says:

    Conlon is a far better conductor. The people of Cincinnatti are very fortunate to have him as a replacement.

  • Simon says:

    I have been impressed with Mena in performance when I have heard him and have written several favourable reviews. I recall Jiří Bělohlávek once telling me that Mahler 8 was easy: “just set the tempo and give them some cues, you do not interpret a beast like that.” or words to that effect. Conlon should be able to manage no problem.

    • Neil B. says:

      Words of wisdom indeed! Only the most experienced of maestros know when to insert or remove themselves for musical work to take flight.

  • Roger Rocco says:

    No problem! Every major conductor has this epic score in their repertoire.