CCM alum Matthew Swanson named director of May Festival Chorus

Swanson will begin his term on June 1, 2024, leading one of America's most active symphonic choruses

Following an extensive national search, the Cincinnati May Festival has announced UC College-Conservatory of Music alumnus Matthew Swanson as its next director of choruses. Swanson will begin his term on June 1, 2024, and will lead the storied May Festival Chorus, one of America’s most active symphonic choruses.

In his new role, Swanson (Choral Conducting, MM '13; DMA '19) will prepare the May Festival Chorus for featured appearances at the May Festival and for performances with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Pops. As director of choruses, he will serve as an ambassador and advocate of the chorus and May Festival, preserving and enhancing its profile while strengthening the connections between the organization and its collaborators throughout the world.

Matthew Swanson.

Matthew Swanson

“I'm still processing it, honestly,” Swanson told the Cincinnati Business Courier. “I’ve been involved with the May Festival since the 2011-12 season almost consecutively, except for one year. I never imagined when I joined the chorus that I would one day be leading it.”

When he was a CCM student, Swanson first joined in the May Festival Chorus as a member of the tenor section in 2011-12, and he worked in the CSO box office before he was later awarded the May Festival Choral Conducting Fellowship in 2015. Over the last decade, the Cincinnati May Festival has partnered with CCM’s choral conducting department each year to select a fellow from the doctor of musical arts (DMA) class. Sergey Tkachenko, a first-year DMA student in CCM’s choral conducting program, is the conducting fellow for the 2023-24 season. Tkachenko will serve as the assistant conductor for the May Festival Chorus this year.

“The appointment of Matthew Swanson preserves the long-standing commitment the May Festival has made to engage, energize and connect our community with the highest quality performances of great choral music. Matthew’s talent, character and passion for the artform will extend and expand this commitment as the May Festival continues to be a relevant asset and resource for the community,” said May Festival Executive Director Steven Sunderman.

“I am honored to serve the members of the May Festival Chorus and our broader community as director of choruses. The May Festival, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Pops have been continuing sources of inspiration since I arrived in Cincinnati 12 years ago, and I look forward to our future collaborations,” said Swanson. “I wish to thank Louis Langrée and John Morris Russell for their indelible examples of musicianship, leadership and humanity. I am especially grateful to Robert Porco, whose commitment to excellence and volunteerism has been transformational for the May Festival and for me. Together with the May Festival Choruses, I am eager to ensure that Cincinnati’s choral community grows even more active and vibrant in the years ahead.”

Currently, Swanson serves as the director of the May Festival Youth Chorus and associate director of choruses for the May Festival, where he assists in the leadership and administration of the May Festival Chorus. Additionally, he serves as the director of special projects, where he develops and produces several collaborative projects for the May Festival alongside local, regional and national organizations. 

Highlights of Swanson’s tenure at the May Festival include the creation of an annual May Festival Youth Chorus commissioning project; the presentation of community choral concerts during the May Festival; a robust program of professional voice instruction, free to chorus and youth chorus members; the festival’s community choral podcast “Sing the Queen City”; and free in-school choral clinics for area middle and high schools. In collaboration with the May Festival administration, he has worked to expand the May Festival’s commitment to inclusion and access by ensuring that all aspects of participation in the May Festival choruses are cost-free for chorus and youth chorus members. His portfolio of special projects at the May Festival has included staged productions of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS (2018) and Candide (2022); the organization of a May Festival Community Chorus for an acclaimed performance of Handel’s Messiah at the 2018 May Festival; and 25 for 25, the May Festival’s 2023 collaborative, community-based commissioning project that was part of the festival’s 150th anniversary activities.

“Matthew’s influence on the May Festival over the past ten years has been instrumental in the May Festival’s development and evolution, not only in the musical aspects of the organization, but also furthering its involvement with the community,” continued Sunderman. “It has been and will continue to be a pleasure to work with Matthew as the May Festival continues to make a positive impact on the entire region.”

Beyond the May Festival, Swanson’s affiliations have included the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center (New York) among others. As an educator, he has most recently served on the faculty of Xavier University as conductor of the Xavier Choir and instructor of choral methods and on the faculty at CCM, where he has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in conducting techniques, choral methods and choral literature. Since 2015, he has frequently led Vox Antiqua, an ensemble of the CCM Early Music Lab.

"Matthew Swanson is such an extremely skilled musician. I am honored to know Matthew and to have worked with him here and at the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center,” said CSO Music Director Louis Langrée. “He has devoted himself to the May Festival and Cincinnati community for over a decade, and I am thrilled that he will continue to share his deep knowledge and artistry with the community as director of choruses. I wish him and the May Festival a wonderful and fruitful collaboration.”

A native of southeast Iowa, Swanson earned his undergraduate degree in trumpet performance and American studies at the University of Notre Dame, master’s degrees in choral conducting and choral studies from CCM and King’s College, Cambridge, respectively, and a doctorate of musical arts in conducting from CCM.

He was awarded the May Festival Choral Conducting Fellowship in 2015, where he directly assisted Director of Choruses Robert Porco with leading the May Festival Chorus as well as all operations of a major symphonic choral organization, including artistic planning, budgeting and finance, philanthropy, marketing and community engagement. Swanson will succeed Porco as director of choruses.

“I’ve known Matthew for over 10 years, and he is an exceptionally talented and intelligent young man,” said current Director of Choruses Robert Porco. “I am pleased that my dear colleague will inherit the responsibilities of the position and lead the May Festival Chorus into its next chapter.”

“Matthew is a consummate musician and collaborator, and we are very fortunate to have him serve as the May Festival’s next director of choruses,” said May Festival Board Chair Christy Horan. “His leadership skills combined with his deep understanding of the human voice, choral music repertoire, chorus preparation, as well as the May Festival and May Festival Chorus’ historic legacy, make him a clear choice for this position. Matthew’s vision for the May Festival Chorus and May Festival aligns with the future of the institution, and we on the board, as well as members of the chorus family, are excited that he will continue to be a part of the May Festival in this new capacity.”

Read the May Festival's announcement.

Read the Cincinnati Business Courier's story.

About CCM Choral Studies

CCM's Department of Choral Studies is dedicated to creating a new kind of choral conductor who is capable of standing in any environment to inspire new generations of musicians and audience members. As one of the most established conductor training programs in the world, CCM prepares leaders and entrepreneurs who will envision a new wave of performance and pedagogy that values transformative musical experiences.

CCM's Master of Music and Doctor of Music Arts programs provide professional-level experiences in rehearsals and performances, developing musicianship and technique, and acquiring knowledge of styles, performance practices and repertoire.

MM and DMA graduates of CCM's Choral Studies programs are conducting and administrating highly successful professional, collegiate, symphonic, secondary, children's and church choir programs throughout the world.

Featured image at top: The Cincinnati May Festival Chorus/Provided.

Additional Contacts

Curt Whitacre | Director of Marketing/Communications | UC College-Conservatory of Music

| 513-556-2683

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