Grand Rapids Symphony - One of America's Leading Orchestras
When the Grand Rapids Symphony traveled to New York City as part of its 75th anniversary celebration in 2005, New York Times critic Bernard Holland began his review with, “The Grand Rapids Symphony came to Carnegie Hall on Saturday night and brought a good part of the city with it.”
Holland may have been surprised, but the enthusiastic audience that accompanied its orchestra to the Big Apple wasn’t. Since 1930, the Grand Rapids Symphony has been serving its community and has remained a source of civic pride for 86 seasons.
Today, the Grand Rapids Symphony – led by Music Director Marcelo Lehninger, Associate Conductor John Varineau, and Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt – touches the lives of some 200,000 people from 14 counties across the state through its 10-concert Richard and Helen DeVos Classical, six-concert Fox Motors Pops, three-concert D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops, and three-concert Crowe Horwath Great Eras among other series.
Recent initiatives include Symphony Scorecard and Free for Families, both of which bring new audiences into DeVos Performance Hall who otherwise would not be able to attend programs. Beyond the concert hall, the orchestra’s Music for Health initiative sends musicians into area hospitals, armed with the healing power of music.
In April 2015, GRS organized seven soloists, five choruses, two dance companies and two marching bands – 1,500 performers in all – for LiveArts, a multimedia, multi-genre extravaganza that drew more than 7,100 to the Van Andel Arena.
Since 1944, four generations of concert goers have grown up attending Fifth Grade Concerts, which provides a live, concert experience for more than 15,000 youngsters each year. Today, the Gateway to Music creates a network of access points for people of all ages and walks of life to engage with orchestra music through offerings including Lollipops Concerts, Mosaic Scholarships and Artist-in-Residence programs.
Countless more experience the Grand Rapids Symphony through its 12 recordings. An album of new music by British composer Philip Sawyers was released internationally in 2011 by Nimbus Alliance. Invention & Alchemy with “hip harpist” Deborah Henson-Conant earned a 2007 Grammy nomination for Best Classical Crossover Album. At home, West Michigan residents enjoy broadcasts of the Grand Rapids Symphony on Blue Lake Public Radio.
The Grand Rapids Symphony’s ranks are filled with musicians who have made careers in West Michigan. Its entire flute section – Christopher Kantner, Ruth Bylsma and Judith Kemph – have sat side-by-side now for 40 years through the 2015-16 season. Thanks to their efforts of its musicians, the orchestra in 2013 became a member of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, making it one of the 50 largest orchestras in the United States
The 2016-17 season marked the 55th season of the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, the 56th of the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony, and the ninth of the Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Choruses.
The Grand Rapids Symphony takes pride in having helped launch the career of former music director Semyon Bychkov, one of the world’s most eminent conductors. In 1986, the organization made history by appointing Catherine Comet as music director, the first woman to lead a regional professional orchestra in the United States. Two years later, Comet was awarded the prestigious Seaver/NEA Conductor’s Award.
In 2005, Holland wrapped up his review of the Grand Rapids Symphony with these words:
"I hope those supporters understand its achievement is not playing in Carnegie Hall but playing in Grand Rapids. Music doesn't need any more international stars; it needs people who stay home and serve their neighbors ... The orchestra is what it ought to be and gives a glimmer of hope for all of us in the music world."