Marcelo Lehninger 
|  Music Director

Chair Funded Anonymously

Marcelo Lehninger is the new Music Director of Grand Rapids Symphony.

The Brazilian-born conductor recently concluded his final season as Music Director of the New West Symphony Orchestra. During his four years with the Los Angeles-based orchestra, Lehninger was awarded the Helen M. Thompson Award for an Emerging Music Director in 2014 by the League of American Orchestras. 

Handpicked by James Levine in 2010, Lehninger spent five seasons with the Boston Symphony Orchestra as Assistant Conductor and then as Associate Conductor. On three day’s notice in 2011 he replaced Levine in performances including the world premiere of a new violin concerto by Harrison Birtwistle as well as leading the BSO in that program in New York City’s Carnegie Hall.

During the 2014-15 season, Lehninger made his Grand Rapids Symphony debut to lead the Grand Rapids Symphony in a critically acclaimed performance of Antonín Dvoƙák’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” in DeVos Performance Hall in February 2015. That season also included debuts with the Detroit and Milwaukee Symphonies and the Rochester Philharmonic plus return engagements with the Florida Orchestra and Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra.

In April, Lehninger returned to West Michigan for performances of Ottorino Respighi’s “Pines of Rome” with the Grand Rapids Symphony. Lehninger’s 2015-16 season also included debuts with the symphonies of Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Fort Worth in the United States; the symphonies of Winnipeg and Kitchener-Waterloo in Canada; and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France as well as return engagements with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and the Minas Gerais Philharmonic in Brazil. 

Maestro Lehninger’s upcoming 2016-17 season includes debuts with the symphony orchestras of Sydney and Melbourne in Australia, with the symphonies of Tucson and Portland in the United States, and with Symphony Nova Scotia in Canada.

An alumnus of the National Conducting Institute, Lehninger made a successful debut with the National Symphony Orchestra in 2007 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and was invited to conduct the NSO again in 2008.

During the 2007-08 season, Lehninger served as music advisor of the Youth Orchestra of the Americas, composed of 120 talented musicians from more than 20 countries throughout the Americas with Plácido Domingo as artistic advisor. In summer of 2008, Maestro Lehninger toured with YOA and pianist Nelson Freire in South America, conducting concerts in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.

Chosen by Kurt Masur, Lehninger in 2008 was awarded the First Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Scholarship, sponsored by the American Friends of the Mendelssohn Foundation. He was Maestro Masur’s assistant with the Orchestre National de France during its residency at the Musikverein in Vienna as well as with the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig and the New York Philharmonic. In 2011, he participated in the Bruno Walter National Conductor Preview, organized by the League of American Orchestras, conducting the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.

As a guest conductor in the United States, Lehninger has led the symphony orchestras of Chicago, Houston, Seattle and Baltimore among others. In Canada, Lehninger has appeared with the Toronto Symphony, and Calgary and Hamilton Philharmonics.  In 2013, he recorded the work of composer Christopher Culpo for Radio France in Paris, conducting the Orchestre National de France.

In Europe, he appeared with the Lucerne Symphony, Lausanne Chamber Orchestra and Slovenian Philharmonic, and assisted Mariss Jansons on tour with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Before dedicating his career to conducting, Lehninger studied violin and piano. He holds a Master's degree from the Conductors Institute at New York's Bard College, where he studied conducting under Harold Farberman and composition with Laurence Wallach. His mentors also include Leonard Slatkin and Roberto Tibiriçá. 

A dual citizen of Brazil and Germany, Marcelo Lehninger is the son of German violinist Erich Lehninger and Brazilian pianist Sônia Goulart. He has led all of the top orchestras in Brazil, made regular guest conducting appearances in Argentina, and previously served as Associate Conductor of the Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra.

David Lockington  |  Music Director Laureate


David Lockington served as the Grand Rapids Symphony Music Director from January 1999 to May 2015, a record 16 years in the role. Under his direction, the Symphony achieved new heights of artistic excellence and greater acclaim, including numerous four-star concert ratings by The Grand Rapids Press.

In 2005, Mr. Lockington led the orchestra before a full house in New York’s Carnegie Hall.The New York Timescommended the orchestra for being a model in the Classical music world. The Grand Rapids Symphony also earned a 2007 Grammy Award nomination and has five recordings led by Mr. Lockington.

The recordings have received high praise, including the orchestra’s CD of Adolphus Hailstork’s Second and Third Symphonies, released internationally on the Naxos label in 2007. Additionally, 2008 saw the successful start of the Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Choruses. At this initiative, the Symphony has also reached out to new and diverse audiences through its annual community concert “Symphony with Soul,” now in its 15thseason.

Mr. Lockington conducted the Symphony on seven of ten concert series, as well as festivals and outreach concerts. His guest conducting engagements includes appearances with the Saint Louis, Houston, Detroit, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver, Colorado, Oregon, Phoenix, Indianapolis, Pacific, Nashville, San Diego, Kansas City and Columbus symphonies; the Louisville Orchestra and National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa; the Buffalo, Rochester, Calgary and Louisiana philharmonics; and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s at Carnegie Hall.

Internationally, he has conducted the China Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra in Beijing and Taiwan, led the English Chamber Orchestra on a tour in Asia, and appeared with the Orquesta Sinfonica del Principado de Asturias in Spain and the Northern Sinfonia in Great Britain.

Since May 2007, Mr. Lockington has served as music director of the Modesto Symphony Orchestra in California. In March 2013, he was named music director of the Pasadena Symphony. Prior to leading the Grand Rapids Symphony, Mr. Lockington held the music directorships of the Long Island Philharmonic, New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, Cheyenne Symphony and Ohio Chamber Orchestra.

For three years, he held the post of assistant conductor with the Denver Symphony Orchestra and Opera Colorado. Mr. Lockington was also associate conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Lockington began his career as principal cellist with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. After completing his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Cambridge, he came to the U.S. on a scholarship to Yale University, where he received his master’s degree in cello performance and studied conducting with Otto Werner Mueller. He was a member of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra and served as assistant principal cellist for three years with the Denver Symphony Orchestra before turning to conducting.Mr. Lockington arrived in this country in 1978 and is a U.S. citizen. He is married to violinist Dylana Jenson. They live in Grand Rapids and have four children.

Bob Bernhardt  |  Principal Pops Conductor

Beatrice A. Idema Chair

As the Principal Pops Conductor of the Grand Rapids Symphony, Bob Bernhardt is instrumental in shaping the orchestra’s popular programming, including the Fox Motors Pops, Nestlé Gerber SymphonicBoom and D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops series. With 32 years of experience as a Music Director, 36 years as a conductor of Pops, and 34 years in the opera pit, Bob Bernhardt brings a unique perspective and ability each time he is on the podium. Bernhardt first conducted the Grand Rapids Symphony in September 2013, leading the “Boston Pops Tribute Show” and will conduct numerous concerts each season in this role.

He is currently in his 19th season as Principal Pops Conductor of the Louisville Orchestra (and in his 34th consecutive season there), and in his 4th season as Music Director Emeritus and Principal Pops Conductor of the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera. He is also Artist-in-Residence at Lee University since 2012.

Formerly, he was Principal Conductor/Artistic Director of the Rochester Philharmonic, Music Director and Conductor of the Tucson Symphony, Principal Guest Conductor of Kentucky Opera, Music Director and Conductor of the Amarillo Symphony, and Artistic Director of the Lake Placid Sinfonietta.

This season marks his 23rd as a frequent guest of the Boston Pops, which he first conducted at John Williams’ invitation in 1992.

He has been a frequent guest conductor of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony, the Detroit Symphony, the Cincinnati Pops, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Dallas Symphony, the Houston Symphony, the Seattle Symphony, the Pacific Symphony, the Florida Orchestra, the Las Vegas Philharmonic, and the Santa Barbara Symphony. He has been a guest with the St. Louis Symphony, Virginia Symphony, Phoenix Symphony, and many others.

A lover of opera, he conducted productions with Kentucky Opera for 18 consecutive seasons, and for 19 seasons with his own company in Chattanooga, as well as many guest conducting engagements with the Nashville Opera.

He received his Masters degree with Honors from the University of Southern California’s School of Music, studying primarily with Daniel Lewis. He received his BA-Fine Arts degree from Union College in Schenectady, NY, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Summa cum laude, and an Academic All-American Baseball Player. He lives with his wife, Nora, inSignal Mountain, Tennessee.

John Varineau  |  Associate Conductor

Wege Foundation Chair 

As associate conductor of the Grand Rapids Symphony, John Varineau conducts the orchestra nearly all of its concert series, including the Richard and Helen DeVos Classical Series, Fox Motors Pops Series, the SymphonicBoom Series, DTE Energy Foundation Family Series, PNC Lollipop Series and the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops. He also conducts a variety of educational and outreach concerts throughout the area. Mr. Varineau is committed to nurturing the next generation of classical music lovers. He is a frequent visitor to area schools, and shares an infectious enthusiasm with students throughout West Michigan.

The 2015-2016 Season marks his 31st anniversary with the Symphony and 28th year as the conductor of the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony and Classical Orchestra. He has been a visiting orchestra conductor at Western Michigan University and a guest conductor for the Traverse City Symphony.

Mr. Varineau also appears in a variety of summer music programs in the region and plays in the chamber music group, Montage. In 2003, he appeared twice as a guest conductor with the Arkansas Symphony.

Additionally, he conducts the Grand Rapids Symphony for performances by the Grand Rapids Ballet Company. Mr. Varineau is a clarinetist and recently joined Calvin College's music department as a professor of music and director of orchestras. Mr. Varineau attended Michigan State University, University of Wyoming and Yale School of Music for his clarinet training.

He has made three recordings with the Grand Rapids Symphony and three with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. He and his wife, Gwen, have a daughter, Jade, and a son, Justin.

Send an e-mail message to John Varineau

Pearl Shangkuan  |  Chorus Director

Covenant Chair 

In her eleventh season as the chorus director of the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, Dr. Pearl Shangkuan is a sought-after guest conductor and clinician all across the US and internationally. Active on the national leadership of choral conductors, she served as president of the Central Division of the American Choral Directors Association.

A professor of music at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, her choirs have appeared at the American Choral Directors Association conventions as well as toured Asia and Europe. Dr. Shangkuan has a signature choral series with earthsongs publishing and is also the music editor of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship music series, published by GIA.

Studying under pre-eminent American choral conductor and chorus master of the New York Philharmonic, Dr. Joseph Flummerfelt, Dr. Shangkuan received her bachelor of music in church music (summa cum laude) and master of music in choral conducting (with distinction) from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey; and her doctorate in choral conducting from Rutgers University. Dr. Shangkuan and her family live in Grand Rapids.

Sean Ivory  |  Youth Chorus Conductor

Sean Ivory is the conductor of the Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Chorus. Along with being a choral conductor, he is a pianist and composer. Since 1992, Mr. Ivory has been a vocal music instructor at Forest Hills Central High School. He has served as an accompanist and conductor for St. Cecilia Music Center, the North American Choral Company, and Calvin College. 

Mr. Ivory attended Northwestern University, Calvin College and Michigan State University. His choirs have performed at both state and regional conventions for the American Choral Directors Association, and have toured Ireland, the Netherlands, Finland, Estonia, and Ghana. Mr. Ivory has arranged and composed several published works (in collaboration with Chicago composer Paul Caldwell) including Go Where I Send Thee, Ani Ma’Amin, John the Revelator, and Ain’t No Grave Can Hold My Body Down. Hope for Resolution: A Song for Mandela and DeKlerk continues to be a staple of choirs all over the world, and was recently recorded on the CD/DVD A St. Olaf Christmas in Norway. His music is published by Earthsongs, GIA and Alliance. Mr. Ivory lives in Grand Rapids.