Principal Conductor – Cincinnati May Festival
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 currently serves as Principal Conductor of the Cincinnati May Festival, the longest running choral festival in North America, where he has been expanding the scope of the legendary institution with new commissions and community engagement.Read more
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 appears regularly with all the major orchestras in his native Spain: the Spanish National Orchestra, Barcelona Symphony Orchestra and Madrid Symphony Orchestra among others. Following his North American debut with the Baltimore Symphony in 2004, he has conducted most of the continent’s leading orchestras including the Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Pittsburgh Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, National Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony, Montreal Symphony and Toronto Symphony Orchestras. In Asia, he is a regular guest conductor of the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo.
In the 20/21 season, Juanjo Mena returns to conduct the Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Oslo Philharmonic, Bergen Philharmonic, Danish National Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic and the NHK Symphony as well as a number of orchestras across Spain. He debuts with the Czech Philharmonic and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.
His operatic work 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.
Juanjo Mena’s rich discography with the BBC Philharmonic on Chandos 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 largely overlooked 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 2017, he was awarded the Spanish National Music Award. He lives with his family in his native Basque Country.
“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.”