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WOOD TV8 re-airs 'Grand Rapids Symphony at Carnegie Hall' on Dec. 26

WOOD TV8 has a Christmas present for Grand Rapids Symphony fans.

If you missed its earlier broadcasts of “Grand Rapids Symphony at Carnegie Hall,” you have a chance to see it again.

The NBC-TV affiliate’s half-hour TV special airs again at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 26, on WOOD TV8.

Last April, Music Director Marcelo Lehninger led the Grand Rapids Symphony and Symphony Chorus to New York City for a performance in Carnegie Hall that featured special guest pianist Nelson Freire.

WOOD TV8 traveled to the Big Apple with the Grand Rapids Symphony and captured behind-the-scenes highlights for a documentary that first aired in June. It was re-broadcast a second time in early September on WXSP-TV, an affiliate of WOOD TV8.

GR Symphony at Carnegie Hall 2018

Now’s your chance to see Lehninger, who previously led the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Carnegie Hall, and Freire, who made his fifth appearance in the 127-year-old auditorium, talk about the Grand Rapids Symphony’s second appearance in the celebrated hall with music including Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Momoprecoce and Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain.

The Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, whose director, Pearl Shangkuan, also had conducted and sung previously in Carnegie Hall, made its debut singing Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Chôros No.10 “Rasga o Coração” (It Tears your Heart).

The 134-voice chorus also joined the orchestra to sing Gabriel Faure’s Pavane in F-sharp minor as an encore for the audience of over 2,300.

Eva Aguirre Cooper, Community Affairs Director at WOOD TV8, accompanied the Grand Rapids Symphony to New York City for the two-day trip, taking viewers behind the scenes from rehearsals to receptions, including interviews with musicians, conductors, audience members and a brief appearance by members of the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus on NBC-TV’s “Today Show” with Hoda Kotb.

GR Symphony Chorus sings on NBC's 'Today Show'

Hundreds of supporters, patrons and fans traveled from Grand Rapids to New York City for the Carnegie Hall performance on Friday, April 20. Hundreds more from the New York City area were special guests of the Grand Rapids Symphony thanks to its Symphony Scorecard program.

Special guests also included Mauro Vieira, Permanent Representative of Brazil to the United Nations, and Frederico S. Duque Estrada Meyer, Deputy Permanent Representative, both based in New York City.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Saturday, December 22, 2018

Grand Rapids Symphony and Arbor Circle make the holidays a little brighter for homeless children in West Michigan

Coming home for the holidays can be hard for anyone who has lost a loved one in the last year. The Christmas season is even harder for those who have no home.

The Grand Rapids Symphony opened its home in DeVos Hall to a group of homeless children invited to attend a recent performance of the Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops.

“The holidays are a really rough time for these kids,” said Dale Hovenkamp, partnership and collaboration specialist for the Grand Rapids Symphony.

The orchestra opened its heart as well with a behind-the-scenes tour, lunch with musicians, Christmas presents and a visit from Santa Claus prior to a recent Holiday Pops matinee.

Arbor Circle, a Grand Rapids Symphony partner, brought 45 youngsters to DeVos Hall for the unique holiday happening on Saturday, Dec. 8.

Arbor Circle visits the GR Symphony's 2018 Holiday Pops

 “These are youth who have experienced trauma,” said Janelle Hill, director of community engagement at Arbor Circle, a community service organization in Grand Rapids that assists more than 20,000 people per year to overcome life’s unexpected challenges.

Youngsters attended a back-stage lunch with Symphony musicians just prior to the mid-afternoon concert. Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt also spent time with them.

“The kids really loved that the adults sat with them,” Hovenkamp said.

Santa Claus stopped by to deliver gifts to the youngsters. Some were hats and gloves, but most of the gifts were brand-new books donated to the Grand Rapids Symphony or bought with funds raised by the orchestra’s auxiliary, Grand Rapids Symphony Friends, which raised $1,000 for the event.

Books & Mortar Bookstore in Grand Rapids offered the books for sale at a 20 percent discount for the event. The books included early reader books, activity books, blank journals and illustrated non-fiction books about such topics as dinosaurs, space, weather, animals and trains.

“We had people who donated money as well as people who dropped off gifts,” said Bonnie Monheit, Co-President of Symphony Friends. “There definitely is a need.”

The remaining gifts and contributions were donated to Arbor Circle, which offers more than 50 programs in counseling, education and prevention that addresses mental health, substance use and family concerns.

Youngsters were seated in a group in the mezzanine for the 3 p.m. matinee featuring performances by guest bass-baritone Justin Hopkins, who also spent time visiting with the kids backstage prior to the concert. Hopkins had previously performed for the Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops in 2016.

“Seeing Justin on stage singing ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch’ was a really special experience for them,” Hovenkamp said.

Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus and the Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Chorus plus guest handbell ensemble, Embellish, performed music including Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride”, the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah, and music from the 1990 film Home Alone.

“It was a nice, family experience,” Hill said. “Hopefully, they’ll come to the next concert.”

Last May, Arbor Circle, at its Annual Spring Dinner, honored the Grand Rapids Symphony for its Symphony Scorecard program, which provides free tickets to area residents who receive financial assistance from the state of Michigan or to members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.

“That was a big deal for us,” Hovenkamp said.

Last summer, Arbor Circle brought a group of youngsters to “Symphony on the West Side,” a free, outdoor-concert held in July at John Ball Zoo as part of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Neighborhood Concert Series.

“It was really cool,” Hill said. “Even when it started raining.”

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Thursday, December 20, 2018

Celebrate the season with the Grand Rapids Symphony's annual Cirque de Noel show

Twinkling lights on evergreen trees with presents all around. Sleigh rides on new-fallen snow, partridges in pear trees, surrounded by ladies dancing while pipers pipe and drummers drum.

When you think about it, Christmas not only is the most wonderful time of year, it’s the most visual, too.

Everyone loves music at Christmas, but the Grand Rapids Symphony’s annual Old National Bank Cirque de Noël gives you plenty to look at as well.

Cirque de la Symphonie, a company of acrobats, jugglers, contortionists and aerial artists, will make merry with amazing feats of agility and strength, accompanied by beloved Christmas songs and classical favorites.

Shows in the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Gerber Symphonic Boom series are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 19-20. Tickets start at $32.

“It’s inspired by the elegance of winter,” said Aloysia Gavre, an aerial hoop artist, in an interview with The Grand Rapids Press in 2013. “It's about celebrating as a family and as couples to enjoy the season together.”

Acts include aerial artists Vitalii Buza and Ekaterina Borzikova performing above the DeVos Hall stage while the Grand Rapids Symphony plays the “Waltz of the Flowers” from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.

Audience favorites Vladimir Tsarkov, a juggler and mime, and Elena Tsarkova, a contortionist, husband and wife, both return to DeVos Hall for the show.

Associate Conductor John Varineau leads the Grand Rapids Pops in familiar melodies such as Leroy Anderson’s A Christmas Festival, Franz Schubert’s Ava Maria, and Duke Ellington’s “Peanut Brittle Brigade” from The Nutcracker Suite.

“It really starts with the music,” said Aloysia Gavre, the company’s principal choreographer. “The shows always are built from the musical choices, and the acts and choreography flow from there.”

European-style cirque acts, also known as “le nouveau cirque” or contemporary circus, differ from American circuses with animal acts and slapstick clowns performing under a big top tent.

Cirque artists are athletes trained to perform in theatrical settings.

Cirque de la Symphonie takes cirque one step forward by performing exclusively with symphony orchestras.

"The choreography and the music is what makes it interesting,” said company co-director Alexander Streltsov in 2011. “When it's right, you feel like the music was written for them.”

It's safe to say you can call Cirque de Noël a holiday tradition in West Michigan. Since 2009, Cirque de la Symphonie has visited Grand Rapids every year to share the stage with the Grand Rapids Symphony.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Wednesday, December 19, 2018

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
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