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The May Festival presents the US premiere of Mark Simpson’s The Immortal on May 17, as well as a performance of MacMillan’s Seven Last Words from the Cross on May 18, conducted by the composer himself.

The 2019 May Festival, which runs from May 17-25, continues its esteemed annual tradition of presenting great choral classics and bolstering up new adventurous works for choir—including Mark Simpson’s The Immortal and James MacMillan’s Seven Last Works from the Cross. Founded in 1873, the May Festival is the oldest continuous choral festival in the Western Hemisphere. This year’s festival theme is an exploration of the “Great Beyond.”

The festival opens on May 17 with the US premiere of Mark Simpson’s The Immortal, performed by baritone soloist Rod Gilfry, choral group Roomful of Teeth, the May Festival Choir, and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra led by Juanjo Mena, who also gave the world premiere of The Immortal with the BBC Philharmonic. The Immortal is a 35-minute orchestral and choral séance that sources texts from reports made by late Victorian mediums.

The Guardian praised The Immortal as “a blazingly original oratorio … The paranormal effects Simpson conjures from the expansive forces are genuinely eerie.” The London Times called it “the most thrilling new choral work I have heard in years.”

James MacMillan, the May Festival’s Creative Partner, conducts a performance the following evening (May 18) of his Seven Last Words from the Cross (1993). Called “MacMillan’s masterpiece” by The Guardian, the 45-minute work for chorus and strings is a sequential presentation of the last seven sentences uttered by Jesus, setting texts compiled from the four Biblical Gospels.

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