When Marcelo Lehninger was appointed Music Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony, he made clear his intentions for the next five years.
Grand Rapids Symphony would become an orchestra that not only plays great music for its audiences, it also would become an “important orchestra” in the world of classical music.
Important orchestras, in addition to giving concerts, also tour, record and commission new works of music among other activities.
Grand Rapids Symphony will take up two of those three in its 2017-18 concert season, the first season organized under Lehninger’s leadership.
Nearly 12 years after the Grand Rapids Symphony's debut in New York City’s Carnegie Hall, the orchestra will return to the Big Apple to perform in the famous concert hall in April 2018.
Eminent pianist Nelson Freire, one of the great pianists of our time, will be soloist in Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain in Carnegie Hall.
The Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus will join Lehninger and the orchestra for the New York City performance of music by Claude Debussy and Heitor Villa-Lobos.
“The trip will be a family affair,” Lehninger said.
Meanwhile, the Grand Rapids Symphony will open its 88th season in September and close the season in May 2018 with new music composed by members of the orchestra. Assistant principal cellist Jeremy Crosmer will contribute a new, 8-minute work in the fall, and assistant principal oboist Alexander Miller will compose a 12-minute world premiere that will be unveiled in the spring.
“I think it will make a great statement, a huge statement, to begin the season and end the season with a commission from someone in our musical family,” Lehninger said.
Miller’s new piece will include solo performances by violinists James and Megan Crawford, husband and wife, who met while playing with the Grand Rapids Symphony and later married.
“We’re bringing a little of that family feeling to the stage,” Lehninger said.
A season’s worth of classic rock, Broadway’s hits, family friendly entertainment, and cinematic special events include the second and third films in the Harry Potter Film Concert Series. Both Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the entire full-length films with the Grand Rapids Symphony playing the original musical score by John Williams, are part of the 2017-18 season.
Grand Rapids Symphony’s audiences will enjoy all-time classical favorites including Ravel’s Bolero, Holst’s The Planets, Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony No. 41, and an all-Tchaikovsky program on the Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series in DeVos Performance Hall.
Over at St. Cecilia Music Center, the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Crowe Horwath Great Eras and Porter Hills Coffee Classics series will expand from three concerts to four.
Grand Rapids Symphony’s musical family plays an important role throughout the season.
Principal Flutist Christopher Kantner will be soloist in Mozart’s Flute Concerto in G major in DeVos Hall while Principal Second Violinist Eric Tanner and Principal Trumpeter Charley Lea will be featured on the Great Eras Series in St. Cecilia Music Center.
Music Director Laureate David Lockington will return to conduct the Grand Rapids Symphony in DeVos Performance Hall with his wife, violinist Dylana Jenson, making a return solo appearance with the orchestra.
Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus led by Pearl Shangkuan will join the orchestra for two of the best-loved works in the repertoire, Verdi’s Requiem in the fall – one of Lehninger’s all-time favorite pieces to conduct – and Beethoven’s “Choral” Symphony No. 9 in the spring.
Even the special guest soloists are almost family beginning with violinist Sarah Chang, who was St. Cecilia Music Center’s 2011 Great Artist, and who happens to be a longtime personal friend of Lehninger’s. She’ll open the Grand Rapids Symphony’s 2017-18 season with West Side Story Suite for Violin and Orchestra, arranged exclusively for her from Leonard Bernstein’s Broadway musical.
Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire, a childhood friend of Lehninger’s mother, pianist Sônia Goulart, is almost a second father to Lehninger.
Last fall, Lehninger and Freire, dubbed “the Boys from Brazil” by the Australian press, toured “down under” to great acclaim, giving concerts in such venues as the famed Sydney Opera House.
“The first time I went to Carnegie Hall to attend a concert, it was a performance with pianist Nelson Freire playing,” Lehninger recalled. “I have great memories of that concert more than 15 years ago. Now we will share the stage performing together. It makes the whole event very special.”
Next season, the Grand Rapids Pops presents a full-length screening of the 1951 film An American in Paris starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron with live musical accompaniment. Back by popular demand, the Fox Motors Pops Series celebrates the music of one of the greatest film composers in history with ‘Star Wars’ and More: The Music of John Williams led by Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt, a protégé of Williams during his tenure as artistic director of the Boston Pops.
The six-concert season, which opens with a salute to the music of Fleetwood Mac by rock group Landslide, includes an evening of Broadway blockbusters with songs from Broadway’s biggest shows of all time including Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, The Sound Of Music, Chicago, A Chorus Line, and Cats.
Bernhardt will be on the podium for the Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops, one of three shows he’ll lead on the series. Associate Conductor John Varineau will conduct the other three concerts including The Second City Guide to the Symphony, an evening of sketch comedy and beautiful music featuring The Second City comedy troupe.
Besides the Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops in early December, featuring the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus and Grand Rapids Youth Choruses, the Christmas season will see the return of The Snowman, a screening of the classic holiday animated special with Howard Blake’s musical score played live for the Grand Rapids Symphony’s DTE Energy Foundation Family Series.
Lehninger, who served five years as assistant and associate conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, during which he conducted the BSO on tour in Carnegie Hall, will be on the podium for eight of the 10 Classical series concerts in DeVos Hall. He’ll conduct such monumental works as Richard Strauss’ epic tone poem, Ein Heldenleben or A Hero’s Life.
“It’s a big piece, and it’s a piece I love,” Lehninger said about the work by Strauss. “It shows off the orchestra, and it has a great solo for the concertmaster.”
“It’s really important that we showcase our musicians,” he added. “They are our heroes.”