Juanjo Mena began his conducting career in his native Spain as Artistic Director of the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra in 1999. His uncommon talent was soon recognized internationally with appointments as Principal Guest Conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic and Chief Guest Conductor of the Orchestra del Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa. In 2011 he was named Chief Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, which he led for seven seasons, taking the orchestra on tours of Europe and Asia and conducting annual televised concerts at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Proms. His BBC tenure featured, notably, “thrilling” (The Guardian) performances of Bruckner Symphonies, a cycle of Schubert Symphonies and set new standards for the interpretation of Spanish and South American repertoire. He held the position of Principal Conductor of the Cincinnati May Festival, the longest running choral festival in North America, served by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, until 2023. His tenure reinvigorated the Festival’s repertoire with previously unheard music and new commissions (Julia Adolphe, James MacMillan, Missy Mazzoli, Ellen Reid, James Lee III), and expanded its audience both in numbers and in demographic reach.
A sought-after guest conductor, Juanjo Mena has led Europe’s top ensembles including the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio Orchestra, Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig, London Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala, Tonhalle Orchester Zürich, Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and the Dresden Philharmonic among others. He also appears regularly with all the major orchestras in his native Spain. Following his North American debut with the Baltimore Symphony in 2004, he has conducted most of the continent’s leading orchestras. They include the Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Pittsburgh Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, National Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Montreal Symphony and Toronto Symphony Orchestras. In Asia, he is a regular guest conductor of the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo.Read more
During the 23/24 season, Juanjo Mena returns to North America to lead the Teatro Real Orchestra (the Royal Opera of Madrid) at Lincoln Center, after their triumphant debut at Carnegie Hall in 2022. Other guest performances in North America this season include returns to the New York Philharmonic with Hilary Hahn as soloist, the Pittsburgh Symphony, Detroit Symphony and Montreal Symphony. In Europe, he returns to the Spanish National Orchestra, Barcelona Symphony, Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne and the BBC Philharmonic, while his most recent debuts have included the Dallas Symphony and the Czech Philharmonic.
In the world of opera, Juanjo Mena conducted a new production of Arthur Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake with Marion Cotillard in the leading role, paired with Debussy’s La damoiselle élue staged by Madrid’s Teatro Real in 2022. His operatic repertoire also includes Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, Richard Strauss’ Salome, Elektra, Ariadne auf Naxos, Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and Schoenberg’s Erwartung as well as productions of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin in Genoa, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro in Lausanne, and Beethoven’s Fidelio and Britten’s Billy Budd in Bilbao.
His latest release of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6 with the BBC Philharmonic on Chandos has been described by The Classical Review as “intensely musical”, “impressive” and with a “spectacular sound”. Mena’s rich discography with the BBC Philharmonic on Chandos also includes an acclaimed Gabriel Pierné release selected as a Gramophone Editor’s Choice, Weber Symphonies, Ginastera’s orchestral works to mark the composer’s centenary, and new reference recordings of lesser performed Spanish repertoire including Arriaga’s orchestral pieces, works by Albéniz, Montsalvatge and Turina, as well as three discs of works by Manuel de Falla featuring his opera La Vida Breve. In 2012 Juanjo Mena recorded Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony with the Bergen Philharmonic for the Hyperion label, a disc said to “utterly redefine the terms under which past/current/future Turangalîlas need to be judged” (Gramophone).
Juanjo Mena studied conducting with Sergiu Celibidache following his musical education at the Madrid Royal Conservatory where he was mentored by Carmelo Bernaola and Enrique García Asensio. In 2016 he was awarded the Spanish National Music Award. He lives with his family in his native Basque Country.
Following their "triumphant debut" (Opera Wire) performance at Carnegie Hall last year, Juanjo Mena will once again lead the Orchestra of the Teatro Real (Royal Opera), Madrid in the David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, on 16 October 2023. The concert features...
Juanjo Mena to Lead the 150th Cincinnati May Festival with New Commissions and Mahler’s Eighth Symphony
Principal Conductor Juanjo Mena will close the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Cincinnati May Festival, the longest-running choral festival in North America, with a performance of Mahler’s mighty Eighth Symphony. He will be joined on stage by forces of over 350...
Juanjo Mena will make his debut with the Czech Philharmonic on New Year’s Day, conducting gala performances at the Rudolfinum in Prague. The orchestra’s prestigious New Year concerts, which were led last year by Maestro Manfred Honeck with an Austrian themed...
“Guest maestro Juanjo Mena also demonstrated an uncanny ability to nudge the audience as well as the orchestra. He kicked off the evening in earnest with a spectacular take on Prokofiev’s “Classical Symphony.” […] Mena and the orchestra were marvelous. Unhurried, precise, explosively exciting — the orchestra brought its “A” game on Friday.”
“The National Symphony Orchestra was led by the Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena, who struck precisely the right balance of body and soul in a program bookended by Schumann and Brahms […] the former chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic made a memorable mark. He’s got a way with conjuring and releasing pressure, and can just as easily construct towering columns of sound as scatter them into clouds. […] Mena’s nimbleness was a large part of what gave the overture to Schumann’s 1848 “Manfred” the humanity required to hear the composer’s heart in the chest of the Byronic hero. It was one of the best openers I’ve heard all season. [In Brahms’ Third Symphony] Mena and the orchestra managed its triumphant tuttis as carefully as its many intimacies — the way the first movement quite literally peaces out; the design of the woodwinds that so beautifully illuminates the andante and accentuates the aching grace of the third movement.”
“Monumental and authoritative.”
“Everything was light on its feet, full of rhythmic energy. Conducting without a score, Mena seemed to dance his way through virtually the entire piece. He showed an ideal grasp of how to shape the music into large, overarching paragraphs, so Schubert’s repeated motives never worked against the musical flow. The finale was simply thrilling. The [Boston Symphony Orchestra] executed his vision brilliantly. This was the kind of orchestral playing that did all the little things right: clean articulation, ensemble unity, precise balances within and among sections… [a] strong indication of an orchestra operating at an elevated level.”
“Again, he had the BBC Phil playing at the top of their considerable powers.”
“Juanjo Mena conducted his first opera since joining the BBC Philharmonic with power and subtlety… He offered a high-voltage interpretation, though one in which the great moments of reflection […] had space and time to register.”
“Mena directed a performance which had every necessary attribute. Firstly, the playing [by the London Philharmonic Orchestra] seemed absolutely flawless. The balance was perfect, choice of tempi was absolutely spot on at every point, there was a heavy sense of menace in the quieter passages and the savagery of the score was brilliantly evoked. It was all just about as good as could be.”
“Haydn’s music can look undemanding on paper, but it needs super-careful balancing and articulation to make it sing in performance. Mena brought those skills in spades to an interpretation that combined a feline elegance of phrasing with probing insight into the shadowy emotional regions the so-called “Mourning” Symphony inhabits. […] The featherlight violin figurations in the slow movement had exquisite delicacy, and the finale zipped crisply forward without succumbing to a pumped-up overemphasis.”
“Juanjo Mena had ample opportunity to go bombastic during Saturday night’s Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert. For both Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” and James Lee III’s “Sukkot Through Orion’s Nebula” are boldly extroverted works calling for grand gestures and massive sonorities. But Mena resisted obvious temptations, proving that an honest, humanly scaled performance always is preferable to a merely grandiose one. […] Mena offered a robust performance that did not sacrifice details of orchestration that distinguish this score. Even at the end, with the ensemble at full cry, Mena chose clarity over volume, lustrous color over harsh attacks.”