Symphony orchestra conductors, naturally, have their favorite soloists. A couple of Marcelo Lehninger’s favorites, who have appeared previously with him and the Grand Rapids Symphony, include violinist Sarah Chang and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
Another is Brazilian pianist Sonia Goulart, who happens to be Lehninger’s mother. Not only is she a gifted pianist, Lehninger knows her so well, it’s easy for them to perform together.
“When I play with her, we don’t even rehearse. We don’t have to talk about how we’re going to do it,” Lehninger said. “I can feel what she’s going to do.”
“She performs differently every time she performs,” he added. “But I just feel what she’s going to do, and I’m there with her.”
Lehninger will welcome Goulart as soloist in Frederic Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 on Friday and Saturday, May 17-18, with the Grand Rapids Symphony for the final concert of the 2018-19 season.
“It’s a very special program – for me,” Lehninger said. “I’m very happy my mom is coming here as soloist.”
The concert titled Chopin and Brahms also features Lehninger leading the orchestra in Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2. The sunny, bucolic work, the composer’s personal favorite among his four symphonies, was inspired by a summer vacation spent along the shores of a beautiful lake in Austria.
Concerts at 8 p.m. in DeVos Performance Hall open with Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, a colorful and playful set of five pieces all inspired by fairy tales from Tales of Mother Goose.
Tickets for Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series concert, starting at $18 adults, $5 students, are available at the Grand Rapids Symphony ticket office without additional fees or charges. Call (616) 454-9451 or go online to GRSymphony.org. Tickets also are available at the door or at Ticketmaster outlets for an additional charge.
Sonia Goulart, a child prodigy, who studied in Germany and spent 10 years in Europe before returning to her native Brazil, taught music, rehearsed, and played recitals and concerts throughout her pregnancy prior to giving birth to Lehninger. In fact, the final piece Goulart performed in public near the end of her pregnancy with Lehninger was Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2.
Lehninger, who was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, the second-largest metropolitan area in Brazil, grew up on a musical family. His father, violinist Erich Lehninger, a German, formerly was concertmaster of Brazil’s most important orchestra, the Sao Paulo State Symphony, the most populous city in Brazil.
Marcelo Lehninger grew up playing both violin and piano. Over time, violin gave way to piano, and piano gave way to conducting. But he has performed with his parents onstage as both musician and conductor, mostly in South America.
When Lehninger served as music director of the New West Symphony near Los Angeles for four seasons from 2012-13 through 2015-16, he conducted Goulart in a performance of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in April 2014.
“One of the best moments in my life was to go onstage eight months pregnant with my son,” Goulart said in a 2014 interview with the Ventura County Star in California prior to a similar performance five years ago.
Goulart’s career has flourished in South American and Europe, where she earned her doctoral degree in music from the Staatlich Hochschule fur Musik und Theatre in Hanover, Germany. She is a winner of more than 30 national and international prizes, including First Prize in the Frankfurt Television Competition in Germany, and the Rencontres Musicales Internationales Award in Brussels, Belgium.
“She’s had a very important career, though mainly in Europe,” Lehninger said.
Goulart, who has been compared with such artists as Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha and Argentinean pianist Martha Argerich, has performed in sold-out halls across the Americas and across Europe from Spain to Austria. Next season, she has concert tours in France and Belgium as well as in Brazil and Uruguay.
“It’s always an emotional experience when I perform with her,” he said. “I think it’ll really be a treat for the audience, too.”
Polish-born pianist Frédéric Chopin has gone down in history, not only as one of the greatest composers of all time, but as one of the greatest pianists who ever lived. Chopin’s Piano Concerto in F minor, one of only two piano concertos he composed, was a piece he wrote for himself, at age 19, to display his ample artistry. Ever since its premiere in 1829, pianists have been doing the same with it.
The 30-minute work, which puts the piano on prominent display, is a work that Goulart most often performs with orchestra.
“It’s one of her signature pieces,” Lehninger said.