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 holds the position of Principal Conductor of the Cincinnati May Festival, the longest running choral festival in North America, served by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
A sought-after guest conductor, 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.
Mena kicks off the 2022-2023 season with a Carnegie Hall gala concert, leading the Teatro Real Orchestra (the Royal Opera of Madrid) in its historic Carnegie Hall debut. The concert follows Mena’s recent triumphant performances at Madrid’s Teatro Real, with a new production of Arthur Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake paired with Debussy’s La damoiselle élue staged in June 2022. Other guest performances this season include his debut with the Dallas Symphony and the Czech Philharmonic and returns to the Minnesota Orchestra, Bamberg Symphony, Lucerne Symphony, Dresden Philharmonic, BBC Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony, Danish National Orchestra, Oslo Philharmonic, and the Spanish National Orchestra. May 2023 marks Mena’s final performances as Principal Conductor of the May Festival, concluding his pivotal six-year tenure at the organization during which he has expanded commissioning of new works and put the community at the heart of the Festival. The Cincinnati May Festival’s 150th Anniversary program will culminate with Mena leading Mahler’s 8th Symphony.
Mena’s 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.
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 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 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).
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.