Celebrate the season with the Grand Rapids Symphony's Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops

Two years ago, Justin Hopkins brought the house down in DeVos Performance Hall with his version of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” at the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops.

This week, the bass-baritone, a house favorite with the Boston Pops, is back in town for the annual celebration of the season with the Grand Rapids Pops.

“One memory I have is how enthusiastically the audience responded to ‘You're A Mean One Mister Grinch,’” recalled Hopkins, who made his Grand Rapids Symphony debut in December 2016.

“So well, in fact, that the Grinch may be making a return to Grand Rapids this year,” he said.

Actually, you can count on it.

You’ll also hear a lot more great Christmas music at the Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops, opening on Thursday, Dec. 6 and continuing with five performances through Sunday, Dec. 9.

Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, and at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 7-8. Matinees will be at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 8-9, in DeVos Performance Hall.

Tickets for this Fox Motors Pops concert start at $18 adults, $5 students.

Come early and have hot cocoa before the concert and take your photo while seated in Santa’s chair in the lobby of DeVos Hall.

Principal Pops conductor Bob Bernhardt will lead the orchestra in the old, familiar carols and other timeless holiday melodies.

Hopkins, who appeared in 33 holiday concerts with the Boston Pops in 2015, is looking forward to his second appearance with the Grand Rapids Pops, which he called “truly one of the country’s gem orchestras.”

“Working with Bob Bernhardt and the Grand Rapids Symphony was a dream,” said Hopkins, who has appeared in New York City’s Carnegie Hall, London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Hall and the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Brussels. “They are truly one of the greatest orchestras that I've had the pleasure of working with, and the sound just shimmers in DeVos Performance Hall.”

Grand Rapids Symphony’s annual celebration of the season is home-grown entertainment for a hometown audience. Apart from Hopkins, every other musician on stage is part of the Grand Rapids Symphony family or part of the West Michigan community.

If you love Christmas, you love Christmas carols, sung by a choir. At the Wolverine World Wide Holiday Pops, and you get to hear not one but two choirs sing Christmas music.

The Grand Rapids Symphony, directed by Pearl Shangkuan, joins the orchestra for such favorites such as the “Hallelujah” Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

he Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Chorus, directed by Sean Ivory, which was featured in last weekend’s live screening of Home Alone returns to DeVos Hall to sing John Williams’ “Merry Christmas” from Home Alone from the 1990 film starring Macaulay Culkin.

The Youth Chorus also will sing a new piece titled The Star by its assistant conductor, Leah Ivory, and John Rutter’s Candlelight Carol.

West Michigan’s own Embellish handbell ensemble, directed by Stephanie Wiltse, will return to the Holiday Pops to ring holiday favorites including the Coventry Carol.

The Symphony Chorus will join Embellish for several selections including an arrangement of “Sing We Now of Christmas.”

Last but not least, the Symphony Chorus will lead the audience on a Christmas Carol Sing Along.

Pre-concert activities at each show include a hot cocoa station before the show, in interactive kiosk, and an opportunity to take your own photo in Santa’s chair.

Tickets are available at the GRS ticket office at 300 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 100, across the street from Calder Plaza. Call (616) 454-9451 ext. 4 or go online to GRSymphony.org.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Mary Tuuk, the Grand Rapids Symphony's next CEO, is ready to make her passion for music her profession as President

Mary Tuuk has spent a long career in banking for Fifth Third Bank and in retail with Meijer, Inc.

Away from the office, the greatest passion for the singer with the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus has been music. Now, she’s about to make her passion her profession.

The Grand Rapids Symphony has appointed Mary Tuuk, a West Michigan business executive and current member of the Symphony’s Board of Directors, as its new President and CEO. 

Currently, Tuuk is Chief Compliance Officer/Senior Vice President in Properties and Real Estate with Meijer, Inc. The Grand Rapids native also is a classically trained musician who plays piano, organ and violin.

Beginning in January, the Calvin College graduate, who majored in business as well as in music, will put both sets of skills together to serve as President and CEO of the Grand Rapids Symphony.

Mary Tuuk, GR Symphony President and CEO

But before then, she’ll sing with the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus for its annual Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops on Dec. 6-9.

“My heart is humbled by this opportunity to convert my lifelong passion for music into a new career working with an outstanding team of musicians, board members, office members, volunteers and donors,” Tuuk said.

In a career spanning more than 20 years in Michigan and Ohio, Tuuk worked for Fifth Third Bank as Executive Vice President and Chief Risk Officer during the financial crisis of 2008. While at Fifth Third, she was named by one of the most powerful women in banking by American Banker on its list of  “The 25 Woman to Watch” in the years 2008-2014.

Trained as a lawyer, who graduated from Indiana University with both a Juris Doctorate and a Master of Business Administration, Tuuk held the post of Executive Vice President for Corporate Services at Fifth Third when she joined Meijer, Inc., in 2015.

Tuuk brings to the table a really clear understanding of finances and financial management, said Kate Pew Wolters, Immediate Past Chairperson of the Grand Rapids Symphony Board of Directors.

“When I describe Mary, I say that Mary can walk her way around a difficult situation like nobody I know,” Wolters said.

Tuuk is the second woman to serve as President and CEO of the Grand Rapids Symphony since the 89-year-old orchestra began its transition from a community orchestra to a professional orchestra in the mid-1970s. Melia Tourangeau, who joined the Grand Rapids Symphony’s staff as education director in January 1997, rose through the ranks to serve as President from 2005 to 2008. Today, Tourangeau is president of the Pittsburgh Symphony.

A member of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Board of Directors since 2012, Tuuk co-chaired the search committee that nominated Marcelo Lehninger to become Music Director. The full Board of Directors appointed Lehninger Grand Rapids Symphony Music Director in June 2016.

When Grand Rapids Symphony President and CEO Peter Perez announced in August that he intended to retire at the end of the year, Tuuk was appointed to chair the search committee for his replacement. But after several months of a national search, the committee realized its best candidate was Tuuk. The committee then went on to recruit, interview and unanimously recommend Tuuk for the position. The Board of Directors appointed Tuuk at its meeting on Nov. 15.

“Mary’s record of proven leadership, community connections and love for music make her the perfect person to lead the Grand Rapids Symphony into our 90th season and beyond,” said Chuck Frayer, Chairperson of the Board of Directors. “We were very fortunate to have a high level of interest in this position from around the nation, but ultimately we realized that we had the best possible candidate in Mary.”

Tuuk, who has recently served as Chair-Elect of the Board of Directors, will resign from that position in December.

Lehninger, who is in his third season as Music Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony, said he’s delighted he’ll be working closely with Tuuk.

“By naming Mary as its President, the Grand Rapids Symphony is setting a truly inspired course for its future, and I could not be more pleased with the decision,” he said. “I look forward to working with her to create the next great chapter in this orchestra’s story.”

As a musician, Tuuk has performed with the West Michigan Symphony, the Chamber Choir of Grand Rapids, West Michigan Camerata Singers and the Cincinnati Vocal Arts Ensemble in addition to the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus.

Her solo vocal performances as a soprano have included the Mendelssohn Hymn of Praise, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Faure’s Requiem, Handel’s Messiah, and Saint-Saens’ Christmas Oratorio. Her voice teachers have included Diane Triplett Biser and Stanley Kolk.

“Mary Tuuk is well-known and highly respected by the musicians of the Grand Rapids Symphony,” said French hornist Paul Austin, one of three musician representatives on the search committee. “Her business and financial background combined with her musical training uniquely qualify her to lead the organization. The musicians couldn't be happier with this decision.”

Tuuk plans to continue singing with the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, but she’s ready to take the helm of the orchestra that will celebrate its 90th anniversary season in 2019-20.

“We have so many things that are going well. At the same time, there are challenges,” she said. “I’m so excited about what the future is going to bring for us.”

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Friday, November 30, 2018

Grand Rapids Symphony, Chorus and soloists give inspiring performance of Mozart's 'Great' Mass in C minor

By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk -

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote most of his music to advance his career. He composed his Mass in C minor to build relationships.

The composer who had recently married wrote his Mass in C minor showcase his wife as a singer and to mend fences with his father, who did not approve of the match. It seems not to have worked.

But what didn’t work in 18th century Salzburg definitely did work in 21st century Grand Rapids. Music Director Marcelo Lehninger led the Grand Rapids Symphony and Symphony Chorus in an inspiring performance of Mozart’s “Great” Mass in C minor on Friday, Nov. 16 in DeVos Performance Hall.

It’s safe to say the concert, which was repeated Saturday, Nov. 17, deepened the relationship between the Grand Rapids Symphony and its audience.

GR Symphony's Mozart Mass

The fourth concert in the 2018-19 Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series also included Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony No. 8 and Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question, resulting in an evening of music that was “unfinished, unanswered and incomplete.” But satisfying nonetheless.

Mozart’s Mass in C minor is an odd sort of work because Mozart never completed it.  But the Grand Rapids Symphony’s presentation of what he did compose was an unqualified success.

Lehninger led four soloists, orchestra and chorus in a performance that was polished, precise and persuasive. Persuasive in the sense that a setting of the Roman Catholic Latin Mass is, after all, a liturgical work. When a performance is well done, it nudges a skeptic into rethinking his beliefs. For a believer, in the words of Pope Francis, it “lifts you to God.”

The “Gloria” was splendid with a big, but tasteful, explosion of sound. The “Qui Tollis” was dramatic and heartfelt with precise rhythms. The last time the Grand Rapids Symphony performed the Mass in C minor, some 14 years ago, the orchestra enlisted the another choir to participate. For this performance, the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus was more than enough. The stirring double chorus of the “Sanctus” was full and exciting.

Mozart did write this to show off his wife, Constanze, so any performance makes the soprano the star. Martha Guth delivered a beautiful performance of “Et Incarnatus est,” aided by the woodwinds of the Grand Rapids Symphony, a supremely challenging piece to perform.

Mezzo soprano Susan Platts has made several performances with the Grand Rapids Symphony, and it’s immediately clear why she’s invited back. Her performance of “Laudamus Te” was golden. Her tone, her phrasing, her melodic lines all seem so perfect, it’s hard to imagine her performance could be improve upon.

Mozart asks much less of the tenor and bass soloists. Once again, if only he had finished the piece. But tenor John Matthew Myers and bass-baritone Dashon Burton both were delightful on the concluding “Benedictus.” Myers performed with the Grand Rapids Symphony last May, and Burton returns in March for the 2019 Grand Rapids Bach Festival. You won’t want to miss hearing more from him.

Schubert’s Symphony No. 8, which was discovered in a locked trunk several years after his death, arguably is the first symphony of the Romantic era in music. Previously, the symphonies of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven began with an opening movement brimming with confidence. Schubert’s B minor Symphony emerges with false confidence masking uncertainty beneath the surface that entices the listener.

The “Unfinished” Symphony, as became known, because only the first two movements were discovered in that locked trunk, is even more of a conundrum than the Mass in C minor. Mozart probably intended to finish it. He just never got to it before his death.

A bit of a sketch for the scherzo, the third movement, exists, but Schubert went no farther. He may simply have painted himself into a corner and didn’t know how to get out. Departing from customary practice, Schubert composed the first two movements in triple meter. Typically, the third movement of a symphony is in triple meter. Possibly Schubert couldn’t decide whether to follow or break with tradition and simply set it aside. Or maybe he did compose two more movements that were misplaced. So far, no one knows.

What we do know is that half a symphony by Schubert is better than no symphony at all.

Lehninger skillfully led a performance of supple melodies, edgy rhythms and forceful harmonic transitions. In short, beauty encased in tension. Such was the impact of the opening movement that Friday’s audience applauded afterward. Purists may wish to discourage it, but when it’s an honest expression of an audience’s feelings, it’s more of a pleasure than a distraction.

The second movement was full of charm, subtle and nuanced. Schubert’s Eighth Symphony today is regarded as complete in its own way. But one can’t help but wonder what might have been.

American composer Charles Ives is a one-of-a-kind. No one wrote music like him before, and no one really has since. The iconoclast Yankee was born and bred in the 19th century but he composed music that audiences wouldn’t understand or embrace for another century.

“The Unanswered Question” for brass, woodwinds and strings is a work that makes perfect sense if you know the roadmap first. Set against a soothing, mesmerizing pad of strings, the brass ask a difficult question that jars the senses with its dissonance. Woodwinds offer an answer, which the brass reject and ask a probing question again. Winds reply once more. This goes back and forth for a while until the brass pose once more the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. This time, it’s answered by silence. It’s a piece that makes you think.

Lehninger upped the ante by performing it entirely offstage. The audience arrived to a stage empty of musicians. The concert began with the lights fading to black followed by the eerie sound of strings emerging from the distance.

Though it took a few moments for the audience to realize the music had begun, the beguiling performance in darkness certainly heightened the experience.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Saturday, November 17, 2018

Grand Rapids Symphony and Chorus performs music by Schubert, Ives and Mozart that's 'unfinished, unanswered and incomplete,' Nov. 16-17

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart surely must have been in love with his wife. There’s little doubt he was afraid of his father.

One of the greatest prodigies in the history of music, Mozart spent his childhood traveling across Europe, performing for Kings and Queens and their highborn friends.

As he became an adult, he grew tired of his domineering father, slipped out of Salzburg, and headed for Vienna, determined to make a living as a freelance performer and composer.

He married a young soprano, Constanze Weber, without his father’s blessing. When it came time to return home with his new bride, Mozart composed his Mass in C minor to show off his wife’s accomplishments and in hopes of appeasing his father, Leopold.

Though the solo he composed for Constanze to sing is one of the craziest coloratura arias in the repertoire, it’s also among the most beautiful.

Pope Francis, head of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, in the first major, wide-ranging interview of his papacy in 2013, declared his admiration for the music of Mozart, especially his Mass in C minor.

“Among musicians, I love Mozart, of course,” he said. “The Et incarnates est from his Mass in C minor is matchless; it lifts you to God!”

Grand Rapids Symphony hopes to inspire its audiences as well when it presents Mozart’s "Great" Mass in C minor at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 16-17. Music Director Marcelo Lehninger leads the concerts in DeVos Performance Hall.

Tickets start at $18 adults and $5 students. Call (616) 454-9451 or go online to grsymphony.org.

Today, the Mass in C minor is known as the “Great” Mass because Mozart uses one of the biggest orchestral forces of his career. It’s also incomplete. To conform to the Roman Catholic liturgy of the day, the mass should have had several specific movements. Mozart completed the Kyrie and Gloria. Portions of the Credo weren’t finished. Some of the Sanctus and Benedictus were partially lost.

Mozart apparently never started the Agnus Dei. Not only was it incomplete at its premiere, Mozart apparently never returned to it to finish what he started.

“We don’t know why,” Lehninger said. “So there are some questions behind the premiere. Did he fill it with other pieces?”

The answer to that seems to be lost, though Lehninger will fill the rest of the concert in the Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series with two other pieces, Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony No. 8, and Charles Ives’ “The Unanswered Question.”

Guest soloists for Mozart’s “Great” Mass in C minor include mezzo soprano Susan Platts and tenor John Matthew Myers, both of whom joined the orchestra last season for Beethoven’s “Choral” Symphony No. 9 in May.

They’ll be joined by newcomers, soprano Martha Guth and bass baritone Dashon Burton, along with the 140-voice Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus in the piece that the orchestra and chorus last performed in April 2004 under Music Director Laureate David Lockington.

Schubert completed just two movements of his Symphony No. 8, which is why it was nicknamed “Unfinished.” It also could be called the “Discovered” Symphony. Years after Schubert’s death, the two movements of Schubert’s previously unknown work were discovered in a locked trunk of a friend.

Unlike Mozart, who died at age 35, and Schubert, who died at age 31, American composer Charles Ives lived a long and fruitful life. By day, he was a successful executive in the insurance business who composed nights and weekends.

The iconoclast American composer wrote The Unanswered Question while in his 30s, though her revised it some 25 years later. Though the work itself is complete, Ives used his music to contemplate the mysteries of life, the questions that cannot be answered.

A pre-concert conversation, “Inside the Music,” is held at 7 p.m. prior to each performance. A post-concert conversation, “Talkback,” follows each concert on Friday evenings only.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Join the Grand Rapids Pops for 'Sinatra and Beyond' with Off-Broadway star Tony DeSare this weekend

Entertainer Tony DeSare got his first taste of the spotlight in high school when he was asked to do a few songs to fill time between performances of his middle school and high school orchestras.

The self-described shy kid sat down at a piano and played Georgia on My Mind, Fly Me to the Moon and a few more songs.

“By the time I was done, the whole place was standing on their feet,” he told The Daily Press in Hampton, Virginia, in January. “I was never the center-of-attention type, but it was pretty amazing to see that kind of reaction.

“I still feel that when I perform today,” DeSare added.

This week, the Grand Rapids Pops welcomes the singer and pianist to Grand Rapids for a salute to the songs of Ol’ Blues Eyes titled Sinatra and Beyond.

DeSare, who starred in the Off-Broadway show, Our Sinatra, will sings songs made famous by “The Sultan of Swoon” including Come Fly With Me, I’ve Got the World on a String, My Way and many more “ring-a-ding-ding” tunes.

Associate Conductor John Varineau leads the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Fox Motors Pops series concerts at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, November 9-10 and at 3 p.m. Sunday November 11 in DeVos Performance Hall.

One of the most popular entertainers of the 20th century as well as one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, Sinatra died 20 years ago at age 82. But his music has never gone out of style.

In October, Capitol Records released the 60th anniversary edition of “Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely,” an album that went straight to No. 1 and stayed on the charts for two years.

The album, regarded by many as Sinatra’s greatest record of all, included songs such as “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road),” which DeSare will perform with the Grand Rapids Pops this week.

Today, when people think of Sinatra, they think of the mature Sinatra, dressed in a tuxedo, singing such songs as “New York, New York.”  But DeSare, age 42, prefers Sinatra’s music from the 1950s, when he recorded such albums as the 1958 release “Songs for Only the Lonely”.

“Frank’s voice was dead-on perfect, and he was such a great interpreter,” DeSare told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal in September 2017.

“Plus, he was working with those classic Nelson Riddle arrangements,” added DeSare, whose first appearance with the Grand Rapids Symphony was for its Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops in 2012. Earlier that year, he had been in West Michigan to perform Our Sinatra at Mason Street Warehouse in Saugatuck.

Named a Rising Star Male Vocalist by Downbeat magazine in 2009, DeSare has appeared in venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to jazz clubs. He’s headlined in Las Vegas with comedian Don Rickles, and he’s appeared with major symphony orchestras.

As a child, DeSare had his first music lessons on violin, but he soon discovered the piano.

“I’m not sure exactly what it is,” he told the South Bend Tribune in August. “I know one of the big things is that it’s the only instrument that lets you be your own orchestra.”

At age 11, he became obsessed with learning George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” Mining his parents’ record collection, he soon developed a fondness for such classic pop singers as Sinatra and Nat King Cole.

Still, music remained a hobby through his teen years, and he studied pre-law at Ithaca College until he attended a Billy Joel concert. The singer/songwriter shared some advice from the stage for the audience of 20,000.

“What Billy said is that we did not have to become recording stars or follow in his footsteps,” DeSare recalled in the interview with the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “He basically said, ‘If you feel you can pay your bills by playing music, that alone is reason enough to follow your dream.’”

“I just sat back, thinking to myself, ‘Wow, when you put it that way,’” he added. “I was much too far along for me to switch and begin pursuing a music degree,” he said. “But I dropped my law courses the next Monday and became a business major.”

Described in the New York Times in 2012 as “two parts young Sinatra to one part Billy Joel,” DeSare channels the best of the Great American Songbook.

“My view of it is, with the Great American Songbook, these great songwriters and the recording industry gave the world a huge gift,” he told The Daily Press. “And when we look back through the lens of the 21st century, it’s interesting to find ways to present all sorts of songs, from all different decades, that are great music.”

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Grand Rapids Symphony musicians remember magic of performing under Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein lived the life of a classical musician to its absolute fullest.

The pianist, conductor, recording artist and larger-than-life personality inspired generations of musicians including several Grand Rapids Symphony Musicians.

Grand Rapids Symphony celebrates his life and music with an all-Bernstein salute, Bernstein’s 100th, on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 2-3, in DeVos Performance Hall.

Guest conductor Carl St. Clair, music director of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra in California and a former protégé of Bernstein’s, will lead the orchestra in selections from “West Side Story” and “Wonderful Town” with soprano Celena Shafer. Pianist Benjamin Pasternak will be soloist in Bernstein’s “Age of Anxiety” Symphony No. 2.

The concert in the Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series will include the perennially popular Overture to “Candide.” Tickets begin at $18 adults, $5 children. Call (616) 454-9451 or go online to GRSymphony.org.

Bernstein, who was born in 1918, almost certainly is the greatest American-born musician the world has yet seen.

He composed musicals such as “West Side Story,” operettas such as “Candide,” and concert music such as his “Age of Anxiety” Symphony No. 2. He introduced millions of Americans to classical music with his “Young People’s Concerts.”

The former music director of the New York Philharmonic led an international orchestra, chorus and soloists in performances of Beethoven’s “Choral” Symphony No. 9 on Christmas Day in 1989, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

 “Lenny is gone, but he lives on through his music,” said Gwenneth Bean, a West Michigan contralto and past guest artist with the Grand Rapids Symphony who enjoyed personal as well as a professional relationship with Bernstein in the last decade of his life.

Though it’s been more than 28 years since Bernstein’s death at age 72, several Grand Rapids Symphony musicians worked with him briefly. Principal oboist Ellen Sherman performed under Bernstein as well as under Marin Alsop, now music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, in 1988 at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival in Germany.

Others worked under Bernstein at Tanglewood Music Center, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts.

“We were a bunch of excited puppies eager to obey his every command. Or at least I was,” said violinist Linda Nelson, who played under Bernstein in 1979 at Tanglewood.

Principal cellist Alicia Eppinga called it “life changing to play under a legend like Leonard Bernstein.”

“Not only did he have a complete understanding of the scores that he conducted, but he left no doubt as to the emotional content,” said Eppinga, who played at Tanglewood in 1987 and 1989. “I do vividly recall him stopping conducting altogether and looking at each and every one of us with an expression that conveyed all we needed to know.”

Nelson agreed.

“His ability to communicate the character and the emotion of the music was electric,” Nelson recalled. “He had respect for the scores, but I think, being a composer himself, he took more liberties than other conductors of the time to reinterpret the intent and not be swayed by traditions.”

 “He truly was hugely influential to me,” Eppinga added with a smile. “And he kissed my cheek!”

Bean, who performed in March 1997 with the Grand Rapids Symphony as soloist in Gustav Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand” Symphony No. 8, enjoyed a close relationship with Bernstein for a several years in the 1980s.

“I was so blessed to work with him,” she recalled. “He’ll always be very special to me because he believed in me before I believed in me.”

Trained as a nurse, Bean had joined the chorus of the Lyric Opera of Chicago and had made the jump to solo roles. Her career was just getting stated when she appeared in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Bernstein saw the performance, which aired on PBS-TV, and he invited her to come to New York City and audition for him to perform in his Songfest Cycle.

She arrived at Bernstein’s home in the famous Dakota Hotel in time to see Lauren Bacall getting into a limousine, and she chatted briefly with Roberta Flack on the way into the building.

Bean sang for him Erda’s Warning Aria from Richard Wagner’s “Das Rheingold.”

“He said, ‘You have one of the most beautiful voices I’ve ever heard,’” she recalled. “I thought, ‘I’ll bet he says that to everyone.’”

After a series of musical instructions, Bean sang again.

“He got up and said, ‘That was perfect,’” she recalled. “He kissed me and said, 'I don’t know if I like your voice better or your personality.'”

“I almost flew back home without the airplane,” she said with a laugh. “I was so high, and I was so in awe just meeting him.”

By the time she got home, Bean had a message that Bernstein wanted to hire her for a tour of the United States and Europe as one of six vocal soloists in his 1977 cycle of songs for six singers, set to texts by American poets.

The Muskegon native traveled for several weeks on Bernstein’s private jet, staying in hotel suites in London, Paris and Rome.

“It was more money than I had made in the three years before,” she recalled. “But to work with that man, conducting his piece, I still can’t believe I worked with him.”

In 1986, Bean worked with him again for six weeks, appearing in Bernstein’s opera, “Quiet Place,” in Vienna. Between the two, she spent long hours talking with Bernstein about many things.

“One thing about Lenny, he would stay two to three hours to meet everyone who wanted to meet him,” she said. “As much as I loved him, I think he was lonely. He was a needy person.”

Bean spent several years on the roster of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, and she’s appeared in many of the world’s leading opera houses. But she said nothing tops working with Bernstein.

“Working with Lenny always will be the number one special experience of my career,” she said. “There’s nobody like him.”

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Save 50 percent off Christmas cheer with Grand Rapids Symphony's 'Before It Snows!' ticket sale

That annual holiday headache is just around the corner.

“What do I get for (fill in the blank) for Christmas?”

Don’t just buy stuff. Stuff you have to store. Stuff she’ll have to dust. Stuff he’ll probably return anyway for store credit.

Instead, give the gift of experiences, where nothing’s sold separately, no assembly is required, and it doesn’t matter whether batteries are included because you won’t need any.

Give someone you love an early Christmas present with tickets to see and hear your Grand Rapids Symphony during the holidays. Better yet, give two people you love an evening with the Grand Rapids Pops for the price of one.

Get tickets to two of the season’s most popular shows at half-off thanks to the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Before it Snows Sale!

Now through Wednesday, October 31, you can save 50 percent off on tickets for the Grand Rapids Pops’ Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops and Old National Bank Cirque de Noël.

Ring in the holiday cheer with heartwarming seasonal favorites including Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” highlights from “The Nutcracker,” and lots of Christmas carols at the Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops.

The Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus and Youth Chorus join Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt and the Grand Rapids Symphony in five performances as part of the Fox Motors Pops series.

Hear the booming bass voice of Justin Hopkins sing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

Experience the magic of Christmas, the wonder of Cirque artistry, and the power and beauty of live orchestral music at the Old National Bank Cirque de Noël when Cirque de la Symphonie joins the Grand Rapids Pops for its 10th anniversary holiday appearance in Grand Rapids for two performances led by Associate Conductor John Varineau in DeVos Performance Hall.

Don’t delay. Before it Snows! ends on Oct. 31 at 5 p.m.

Here’s how:

  • By phone – Call (616) 454-9451 ext. 4 (days) or (616) 885-1241 (evenings)

  • In personGRS Ticket Office at 300 Ottawa NW, Suite 100 (across the street from Calder Plaza)

  • OnlineGRSymphony.org beginning Saturday, Oct. 27.

Be sure to mention the secret code word, “SNOW.”

Here are the available dates:

Wolverine World Wide Holiday Pops

  • Thursday, December 6 at 7:30 p.m.

  • Friday December 7 at 8 p.m.

  • Saturday, December 8 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.

  • Sunday, December 9 at 3 p.m.

Old National Bank Cirque de Noël

  • Wednesday, December 19 at 7:30 p.m.

All shows are in DeVos Performance Hall, 303 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Please note:

  • Discount applies to full-price adult tickets, orchestra level only.

  • Maximum of 4 tickets per program, per household.

  • Not available on previously purchased tickets

  • Special offer for Old National Bank Cirque de Noël available only on Wed. Dec. 19.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Enjoy 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' with live Grand Rapids Pops performance celebrating the film's 25th anniversary

Is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Christmas flick or a Halloween film? Is the film by Tim Burton meant to be seen in October or December?

Who cares? For it is plain, as anyone can see, it’s simply meant to be.

This, fall you’ll want to pick October and the Grand Rapids Pops’ performance of A Nightmare Before Christmas, the full-length film plus live music performed by the Grand Rapids Symphony in DeVos Performance Hall.

Should you see it? Say it once, say it twice, take a chance and roll the dice. Ride with the moon in the dead of night!

The adventures of Jack Skellington, Sally and Zero the ghost dog comes to town for one night only at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20. Tickets start at $18 for the Gerber SymphonicBoom program. Call the Grand Rapids Symphony or go online to GRSymphony.org for more.

Associate Conductor John Varineau leads the performance, the first of four full-length films that the Grand Rapids Symphony will present this season. The other three are Home Alone on Nov. 29 for one-night only, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with two performances Feb. 1-2, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl with three shows March 8-10.

Co-written and produced by Tim Burton, The Nightmare Before Christmas is the story of the Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington. Bored with the same old scare-and-scream routine, Jack longs to spread the joy of Christmas. But his merry mission puts Santa in jeopardy and creates a nightmare for good little boys and girls everywhere.

Burton, who began his career as an animator for Walt Disney, cooked up the idea for a Halloween-themed, low-budget, stop-motion film for TV along the lines of TV’s Rankin/Bass holiday classic, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

The film starring the voices of Chris Sarandon as Jack and Catherine O’Hara as Sally celebrates the 25th anniversary of its release in 1993.

Even if you’ve seen it a dozen times before, you haven’t experienced the ultimate surround sound of nearly 80 instruments including the spooky, subterranean voice of a contrabass clarinet.

And even if you’ve seen it dozens and dozens of times before, there probably are a few things that you don’t know about the film that was nominated for the 1994 Academy Award for Best Effects, Visual Effects, and the 1994 Golden Globe for Best Original Score.

Here are seven things you didn’t know about The Nightmare Before Christmas.

1. The idea for The Nightmare Before Christmas was inspired by a poem written by Tim Burton that turned the classic poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas upside down and inside out.

2. The script for the film directed by Henry Selick didn’t come first, the songs did. Tim Burton shared the poem plus his original sketches and drawings for the characters with Danny Elfman, and the composer was off and running.

3. Any guesses what Danny Elfman’s favorite line is? In a 2010 interview with Interview magazine, Elfman said his favorite lyric line is, “Perhaps it’s the head that I found in the lake.” Elfman added in the interview that Burton gets the credit for that particular line.

4. The 1993 movie was filmed in old-fashioned stop-motion animation, a painstakingly slow process. The actual animation took about 18 months, but the entire production from storyboards to final editing took three-and-a-half years. At its peak, 12 to 17 animators and about 120 people in all were working on it.

5. Actor Chris Sarandon is the voice of Jack Skellington. The singing voice of the Pumpkin King, however, is none other than composer and songwriter Danny Elfman.

6. The now iconic character of Jack Skellington didn’t make his film debut in The Nightmare Before Christmas.  Filmgoers got their first glimpse of Skellington in the 1988 film Beetlejuice, and he later made a cameo appearance in the haunted shipwreck scene in the 1996 film James and the Giant Peach, both by Burton and Selick.

7. Finally, if you’re still wondering whether it’s a Halloween film or a Christmas movie, director Henry Selick, at a Q&A at Colorado’s Telluride Horror Show film festival, declared it’s a Halloween film.

Remember, life’s no fun without a good scare.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Grand Rapids Symphony takes audience from Bach to beyond in 2018-19 Great Eras opener at St. Cecilia Music Center

By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk -

Performing the music of Johann Sebastian Bach needs no reason, justification or explanation. You need not wait for a particular season, a special event or an anniversary date. Bach is the man.

You hear a lot of Bach in the cathedral. Not so much in the concert hall. Sadly, Bach flourished and died well before the modern symphony orchestra came into its own. One wonders what he might have composed for the orchestras that Beethoven and Brahms had at their disposal.

The Grand Rapids Bach Festival returns in March with a week devoted to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. But the Grand Rapids Symphony opened its 2018-19 PwC Great Eras Series with a taste of what’s to come.

Music Director Marcelo Lehninger was on the podium for The Baroque Concert: Bach and Beyond on Friday, Oct. 12, in St. Cecilia Music Center, which the Grand Rapids Symphony also performed the following day at the Jack H. Miller Center at Hope College in Holland.

Earlier on Friday, Lehninger and the orchestra performed a portion of the evening program at St. Cecilia to open the 2018-19 Porter Hills Coffee Classics series.

Principal Oboist Ellen Sherman was the guest soloist in Alessandro Marcello’s Concerto for Oboe in C minor. Lehninger led a clean performance of precision and clarity by the Italian composer, a contemporary of J.S. Bach’s and one that Bach admired.

The expressive, Italian passion was provided by Sherman, whose impeccable phrasing and sweet, mellow tone was a joy to experience as she held court among a small ensemble of just 15 musicians. The tasteful intensity of the finale was delightful. The bouquet of flowers Sherman was presented at the end was well deserved.

The Brazilian-born Lehninger slowly is introducing Grand Rapids to the music and culture of Latin America, and there’s no better place to start than with Heitor Villa-Lobos, who is to Brazilian music what Aaron Copland is to American music.

Lehninger led the orchestra in two movements of Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas brasileiras No. 9, one of several works that Villa-Lobos wrote using wrote using Brazilian folk melodies coupled with Bach’s compositional techniques.  The music reminds the listener of how universal Bach’s music is as well as how remarkable Villa-Lobos’s music is.

Lehninger skillfully led the 27-member ensemble through the syncopated, mixed meters that demanded virtuosity from the players and a cooperative spirit from the entire orchestra.

Mention Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 and its likely only musicians and Bach devotees immediately will recognize the piece. Mention Bach’s Air on a G String – the second movement of the suite – and everyone who listens to classical music on public radio will know exactly what you’re talking about.

It’s an adorably sophisticated piece of five movements full of brass flourishes and genteel melodies, all based on dance forms, entirely for the pleasure of listening and enjoying. When Bach wanted to entice an audience, or possibly, the town elders of Leipzig, whom he worked for, he could woo with the best.

The Grand Rapids Symphony gave a charming performance of the piece that many in the audience came specifically to hear. They did not leave disappointed.

Royce Auditorium in the historic, late 19th century St. Cecilia building, is a wonderful place for music of the Baroque, the Classical Era and the early Romantic Era. The program opened with a blast of brass, a Fanfare and Chorus from Ihr lieben Christen, freut euch nun (“Dear Christians, rejoice now”) by Bach’s predecessor, Dietrich Buxtehude, and a Canzon Septimi toni a 8 by Giovanni Gabrieli of the high Renaissance.

Just eight brass players – three trumpets, three horn, one trombone and one tuba were on stage, but the music, which filled Royce Auditorium from side to side and from top to bottom was just heavenly.

The 2018-19 PwC Great Eras series continues in January at St. Cecilia with The Classical Concert and music of Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Saturday, October 13, 2018

Grand Rapids Symphony's Great Eras Series opens with 'Bach and Beyond' on Oct. 12-13

Johann Sebastian Bach, of all the great composers of classical music, reigns supreme. Yet the composer that Beethoven called “the immortal god of harmony” had his favorite composers as well.

When Bach happened upon a Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra by an Italian composer named Alessandro Marcello, he was intrigued enough to arrange it for himself for solo keyboard.

Bach, of course, isn’t available to play his version. But the Grand Rapids Symphony does have principal oboist Ellen Sherman.

Sherman will be soloist in the original version of Marcello’s Concerto for Oboe with the Grand Rapids Symphony for The Baroque Concert: Bach and Beyond at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12 in Grand Rapids and at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13 at Hope College in Holland.

Music by Bach, by his contemporaries, and by a modern composer inspired by Bach open the Grand Rapids Symphony’s 2018-19 PwC Great Eras series.

Music Director Marcelo Lehninger will lead the Grand Rapids Symphony in the concerts including Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068, which is especially popular with audiences because one of its five movements is well-known as Bach’s Air on the G String.

Principal oboist of the Grand Rapids Symphony since 2001, Sherman performed Marcello’s Oboe Concerto with her very first orchestra as a full-time professional musician in Santiago, Chile.

A recent graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, just beginning her master’s degree at The Juilliard School of Music in New York City, Shearman learned about the audition from a notice posted on the elevator door. Representatives of the Santiago Philharmonic had travelled to the capital city of Chile to New York City to hold auditions.

Sherman was offered the job, though at first she was reluctant to give up her graduate studies.

“I had just started,” she recalled. “The Dean said, if you don’t go, you’re crazy.”

With Juilliard’s promise to re-admit her when she returned, Sherman was off to the country on the west coast of South America that she knew nearly nothing about.

“Everybody said I had to go,” she recalled with a laugh. “Except my mother.”

But her year and a half in Chile, one of about 15 musicians from North America in the orchestra, turned out to be a fabulous experience during which Sherman performed three of Mahler’s symphonies.

“I loved it. I really did,” she said. “But I was 22.”

Sherman’s career included stings with the Utah Symphony and as principal English hornist with the New Zealand Symphony. She also has served as principal oboe with the Memphis Symphony, Virginia Symphony and New Hampshire Symphony.

A longtime member of the Carmel Bach Festival, Sherman has participated in numerous music festivals around the country, including the Colorado Music Festival, Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, and the Carmel Bach Festival. She also played with the Boston Ballet and Opera Company of Boston, the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, and the Boston Classical Orchestra

The concert includes Bachianas Brasileiras No. 9 by Brazil’s most famous composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos, who composed a set of suites of music that fuse Brazilian folk and popular melodies with harmonic and contrapuntal methods of composition that were used in the high Baroque era. Between 1930 and 1945, Villa-Lobos composed nine such suites for instrumental ensembles of varying sizes. Suite No. 9 for string orchestra was the last one he composed.

Additional music on the program is Dieterich Buxtehude’s Fanfare and Chorus and Giovanni Gabrieli’s Canzon septimi toni a 8.

Highlights of the evening concert will be performed at 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 12 as The Baroque Coffee Concert to open the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Porter Hills Coffee Classics series. Concerts in the series last one hour and are held without intermission.

Doors open at 9 a.m. for complementary coffee and pastry before the 10 a.m. concert.

On Saturday, Oct. 13, the Grand Rapids Symphony will travel to Hope College in Holland to repeat the full program. The Baroque Concert at Hope College will be held at 8 p.m.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Tuesday, October 9, 2018
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