Guest conductor Marcelo Lehninger returns to DeVos Performance Hall to lead your Grand Rapids Symphony in music including Ottorino Respighi’s epic tone poem, “The Pines of Rome,” on April 22-23.
Lehninger, who was in Grand Rapids in February 2015 to lead the orchestra in Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony No. 9, is the eighth guest conductor to lead the Grand Rapids Symphony this season during its search for a new music director.
Violinist Arnaud Sussmann will be soloist in Bela Bartok’s Violin Concerto No. 2.
The ninth concert of the Richard and Helen DeVos Classical Series features early 20th century music that requires “a virtuosic orchestra,” according to Lehninger.
“Although all of the pieces are really enjoyable to listen to, they are very difficult to play,” Lehninger said. “The Bartok brings Hungarian folklore to the first half. For the second half the audience will experience the nature of Brazil, Spain and Italy. The program ends with one of the most exciting grand finales of all times – “Pines of Rome” by Respighi.
A native of Brazil, whose parents, violinist Erich Lehninger and pianist Sonia Goulart, are noted musicians, Marcelo Lehninger grew up surrounded by music.
Lehninger served as Boston Symphony Orchestra’s assistant conductor for two seasons and then associate conductor for two more seasons, an unusually long tenure with the BSO, ending last season.
Simultaneously, Marcelo Lehninger served as music director of the New West Symphony Orchestra in Los Angeles, a position he’ll complete at the end of this season. In 2014, he was awarded the Helen M. Thompson Award for as Emerging Music Director by the League of American Orchestras.
Here’s more on Marcelo Lehninger:
Q - You’re returning for your second appearance with the Grand Rapids Symphony. What did you enjoy about your first visit to Grand Rapids?
I found a friendly environment among the musicians, a high level of music playing and, most importantly, passion in their playing. The orchestra was very responsive to my gestures and musical ideas, and I felt chemistry and camaraderie on stage. I loved visiting Grand Rapids and experiencing this lively community!
Q - You’re stepping down as music director of the New West Symphony in Los Angeles at the end of this season. Why are you leaving and what do you feel you accomplished with the orchestra and for the orchestra?
I’ve had four wonderful seasons with the New West Symphony. The great pool of freelance musicians in the Los Angeles area makes the orchestra extraordinary. We raised the profile of the orchestra, inviting top-level soloists, introducing innovate multimedia projects, and grew our education programs to reach close to 6,000 students each year.
When I started there, I was also Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony, so it was just the right-size orchestra—and time commitment—for me. My time in Boston came to an end, and I’m ready to move on to a bigger orchestra where I can make a more regular impact on the community.
Q - You opened the Boston Symphony’s 2014-15 season conducting Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, a piece that you’ll also lead in Grand Rapids. Apparently this was the first time the Boston Symphony had ever performed it. Is this piece a hidden gem that deserves to be played widely?
Definitively a hidden gem! Villa-Lobos is one of the most important Brazilian composers, but orchestras in the US do not perform his works often. Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 is one of the most well-known pieces by Villa-Lobos, showcasing the cello section of the orchestra – his instrument. I feel that as a Brazilian, it is one of my missions to resuscitate some of his music and show to the world the great musician and composer he was. The premier in Boston was extremely successful and I am looking forward to introducing the Grand Rapids audience to this beautiful piece.
Q - What’s unique about the music of Brazil that Americans or Europeans don’t know?
Brazilian popular music, especially Bossa Nova, was and continues to be, quite popular in the US, perhaps partially due to the genre’s jazz influence. However, in terms of classical Brazilian repertoire, there is much to learn about. Villa-Lobos’ music is without a doubt the best representation of Brazilian classical music, although we have many other great composers, living and deceased.
Like Bartok, Villa-Lobos incorporates many folk elements into his music, especially sounds of nature. Villa-Lobos was concerned about the environment and always refers to nature in his music. His Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, which is a dedication he makes to the music of J.S Bach, of whom he was a big fan, uses a poem that describes Brazil’s natural landscape and birds in particular.
I believe that in the world we live now, with increased global concern about the environment, the content and rich rhythms of Villa-Lobos’ music remain relevant.
Q - You were appointed assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony by James Levine and you spent five seasons there as assistant and associate conductor. What lessons do you learn there that you’ll someday apply as music director of your own orchestra?
The Boston Symphony is of course a very special organization. I was honored to be part of this incredible family for five years, working with the musicians and building relationships with some of the world’s most esteemed conductors and soloists. It’s rare that they invite assistant conductors to stay beyond two years, so I consider myself very lucky.
The orchestra has such a rich history. I remember when I was preparing Debussy’s La Mer with my conducting teacher, Harold Farberman, who originally was a percussion player for the BSO many decades ago, he corrected my score with instructions that Pierre Monteux, BSO music director from 1919 to 1924, received directly from Debussy.
I learned a lot about the many aspects of making an orchestra run from fundraising and marketing to education and community engagement. The principles are the same regardless of the orchestra, and I hope to bring that knowledge with me wherever I conduct.