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Plenty of great music coming to Grand Rapids Symphony's stage in 2018-19

At the climax of the 2010 film “The King’s Speech,” King George VI overcomes the stutter he’s had since childhood to announce that Great Britain was at war with Nazi Germany.

As Colin Firth, who portrays King George, addresses the British people throughout the world, the gravitas of the moment is supplied by music from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in the film that won the Oscar for Best Picture.

The Grand Rapids Symphony performs Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 to open its 2018-19 season on Sept. 14-15 in DeVos Performance Hall.

“It’s such a wonderful way to start a season,” said Music Director Marcelo Lehninger. “Not only with Beethoven, but with that Beethoven Symphony.”

Karen Gomyo and her Stradivarius violin also will be on stage to perform Samuel Barber’s Concerto for Violin for the opening concerts of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series.

GR Symphony's 2018-19 season

The 2018-19 season includes Marcelo Lehninger leading such musical masterpieces as Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony No. 8, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Elgar’s Enigma Variations, and Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez.

The Grand Rapids Symphony’s 89th season also features four full-length films with live music including Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in February and Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl in March 2019.

Jazz guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli returns to Grand Rapids to open the Fox Motors Pops Series on Sept. 21-23 with McCartney and More, featuring songs of Paul McCartney.  Pizzarelli, who was St. Cecilia Music Center’s Great Artist in 2012, was personally invited by Sir Paul to perform and record McCartney’s post-Beatles music in the classic jazz style of the Great American Songbook. Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt leads the concerts.

In September, the Grand Rapids Symphony returns to ArtPrize with new, cutting-edge music by four young composers all of whom are competing in the $500,000 exhibition and competition. Music by the four will be performed in nine free mini-concerts Sept. 28-29 at The Morton on Monroe Center during the annual event that turns downtown Grand Rapids into a strolling indoor/outdoor art gallery.

The Grand Rapids Symphony’s 2018-19 season includes world-class stars such as cellist Andrei Ioniță, Gold Medalist at the International Tchaikovsky Competition, performing in an all-Tchaikovsky concert in February 2019.

Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet  featured prominently in such film soundtracks as the 2005 film “Pride & Prejudice” starring Keira Knightly, comes to Grand Rapids in October for a concert that also features Rimsky-Korsakov’s popular Scheherazade.

Later in the season, Grand Rapids’ own Michelle DeYoung, a three-time Grammy Award winner who attended Calvin College, joins the singers from the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus and Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Chorus for Mahler’s Symphony No. 3.

The Grand Rapids Pops concerts continue in November with songs made famous by Frank Sinatra starring pianist and singerTony DeSare. In January, trumpeter and singer Byron Stripling returns for a program of ragtime, blues and jazz including music made famous by Louis Armstrong.

The Gerber SymphonicBoom series opens in October with Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas with the full-length 1993 film plus live music led by Associate Conductor John Varineau. Grand Rapids Symphony’s principal oboist Ellen Sherman is soloist for The Baroque Concert – Bach and Beyond, which opens the PwC Great Eras Series and Porter Hills Coffee Classics series in October in both St. Cecilia Music Center and in Hope College’s Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts in Holland.

Four popular holiday programs include screenings of the award-winning animated short The Snowman and of Home Alone starring Macaulay Culkin, both in November. In December, the Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops welcomes baritone Justin Hopkins and Embellish handbell ensemble for old favorites and holiday cheer. The acrobatic troupe Cirque de la Symphonie returns for its 10th anniversary performance of Cirque de Noël.

Special events in the Grand Rapids Symphony’s 2018-19 season include the annual Symphony with Soul show with the hip-hop, classical crossover duo Black Violin in February 2019.

The biennial Grand Rapids Bach Festival  returns in March 2019 for a week’s worth of music in churches and other venues in the city all under the leadership of conductor, organist and composer Julian Wachner, who will make his debut as Artistic Director.

Both season tickets and single tickets are available from the Grand Rapids Symphony at (616) 454-9451 ext. 4 or online at

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Return to Carnegie Hall on Sunday with the Grand Rapids Symphony in TV special

Nearly 13 years ago, the Grand Rapids Symphony traveled to New York City to make its Carnegie Hall debut, a major milestone in the history of the orchestra.

WOOD TV8 traveled to the Big Apple with the Grand Rapids Symphony and captured the highlights for a special-event broadcast that aired in June.

If you missed it, you can see at again on Sunday. “Grand Rapids Symphony at Carnegie Hall” airs at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 2 on WXSP-TV. In affiliate of WOOD-TV can be found on Channel 15 on Comcast, Channel 16 on Charter Cable, and Channel 6 on U-Verse TV. Consult your channel guide for more information.

GR Symphony at Carnegie Hall 2018

In April, Music Director Marcelo Lehninger, who previously led the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Carnegie Hall, led the orchestra and Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus in an exciting evening of Brazilian and Spanish music, some of which hadn’t been heard in Carnegie Hall since 1959.

Guest pianist Nelson Freire, who made his fifth appearance in the 127-year-old auditorium, joined the orchestra to perform Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Momoprecoce and Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain.

The Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, whose director, Pearl Shangkuan, 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.

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.

Follow the Grand Rapids Symphony on WOOD TV8’s Connecting with Community page.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Thursday, August 30, 2018

Grand Rapids Symphony inaugurates Neighborhood Concert Series with "Symphony on the West Side"

The natural mission of an orchestra such as the Grand Rapids Symphony is to make music.

In recent times, the job of every American performing arts organization also has been to inspire, motivate, educate and nurture its audience.

Today, it’s also the duty of an orchestra to connect, not only with its usual audience, but with everyone in its community.

“A symphony orchestra in the 21st century has become a service organization,” said Grand Rapids Symphony Music Director Marcelo Lehninger. “We’re here not only to entertain our audience but also to serve our community.”

For the debut of its new Neighborhood Concert Series, the Grand Rapids Symphony did both.

The Grand Rapids Symphony launched its brand new series with a free concert, “Symphony on the West Side,” on Saturday, July 21, in John Ball Park.

GRS Symphony on the West Side

Underwritten in part by the Wege Foundation, it was the Grand Rapids Symphony’s first outdoor performance in the city in 20 years.

Associate Conductor John Varineau led the Grand Rapids Symphony in music including Henry Mancini’s “Pink Panther Theme,” John Williams’ theme for “Jurassic Park,” and Johann Strauss Jr.’s well known “Blue Danube Waltz” for the concert that drew music lovers from throughout the city.

Huntington Bank was the Consort Sponsor, and additional support for “Symphony on the West Side” was provided by Premiere Sponsors Dykstra Excavating and Beatrice A. Idema.

Music including Jose Pablo Moncayo’s spicy, “Huapango” was performed on a temporary stage for an audience that brought lawn chairs and blankets for the early evening concert.

Grand Rapids’ own Edye Evans Hyde and the Terry Lower Trio joined the orchestra for popular as well as classical music.

Preconcert entertainment was provided by members of Grand Rapids’ Anishinabek community of Native Americans, whose largest tribe in the greater Grand Rapids area is the Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians.

Though rain forced the concert to end earlier than expected, symphony organizers called the event a big success.

“Symphony on the West Side” was the first event in the new initiative launched with help from the Wege Foundation, which earlier this year awarded the Grand Rapids Symphony a $1 million grant to enhance initiatives in diversity, equity and inclusion to engage a broader audience and share live orchestral music with everyone in its community.

Planning is underway to develop a series of community events that organizers hope will broaden the Grand Rapids Symphony’s audience and expose more people in the community to the power and beauty of classical music experienced live and in person.

“I have a passion and a mission to reach the hearts and souls of everyone in this community,” Lehninger said. “Sometimes people feel they don’t belong. We’re trying to show them that, yes, they do belong. Hopefully, they’ll understand that’s it’s their orchestra too.”

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Recap: Ben Folds ends Grand Rapids Pops summer season with evening of surprises

By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk -

An evening with Ben Folds is full of surprises.

The surprise at the Grand Rapids Symphony’s D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops for the first-timers was when Folds’ fans sang along him. Not in the sense of singing along, word for word, as any fan might. But on songs such as “So There” and “One Angry Dwarf,” singing in tandem, as if they were at “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and everyone knows the audience-participation routine.

Yet even for the Folds fanatics, there were surprises. Best of all, the Ben Folds Five became the Ben Folds Sixty Five, thanks to the Grand Rapids Symphony on Friday, Aug. 3 at Cannonsburg Ski Area.

Guest conductor Jacomo Bairos, a regular collaborator with Folds as well as a frequent collaborator with the Grand Rapids Symphony, brought the two together for the one-night only special event to close the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops.

GRS Picnic Pops with Ben Folds

Bairos and the orchestra opened the show was a flamboyant romp through George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” Suite.

The frequent fans who have followed Folds’ career from fronting the alt-rock group Ben Folds Five to appearing as a judge for several season on NBC’s The Sing Off” likely were surprised to learn Folds is a huge fan and big supporter of symphony orchestras. For the past year, he’s been on staff with the National Symphony Orchestra at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as an artistic advisor.

With Bairos and the Grand Rapids Symphony, Folds played a movement from his 21-minute Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, a 2015 piece that several years ago topped the Billboard Classical and Billboard Classical Crossover charts at the same time. The piece isn’t an ultra-serious work but it is substantial with repeated melodic figures and fiery rhythms for soloist and for the orchestra as well.

Most fans, of course, came for the hits, including the cheeky “Effington,” which wound up the audience, and “So There,” which wound up the orchestra.

It sure sounded like the orchestra was having fun as much as the audience.

Along the way, the North Carolina native told the audience, early in his career, he had a regular gig with a band at Northern Michigan’s Schuss Mountain.

“The band was called ‘The Schussy Cats,’” he said.

The biggest surprise, though not entirely a surprise, was Folds’ improvisational create-a-song –on-the-spot with a symphony orchestra. It wasn’t entirely a surprise because it’s been a staple of Folds shows for years.  He did it the first time he appeared with the Grand Rapids Symphony in DeVos Performance Hall in October 2014.

It still was a bit of a surprise because it wasn’t slotted into the show. In the second half, fans because shouting for it, and Folds went for it.

For the next 12 minutes or so, Folds played and sang fragments of music to the audience, called out instructions what to do or not do. In the end, with Folds singing “Rock This Bitch at the Picnic Pops,” co-conspirators Bairos led the Grand Rapids Symphony in a startlingly spectacular musical moment that ended in a standing ovation.

Before the night was over, the plain-spoken, shoot-from-the-hip entertainer told the audience they were lucky to have “one of the best orchestras in the country” in their community.

“There are two kinds of cities,” he said. “There are cities with great orchestras, and then there are cities that are crap.”

The concert as well as the entire 2018 D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops season ended in semi-darkness, the stage bathed in deep shades of indigo and magenta, with couples cuddling as Folds sang “The Luckiest.”

A perfect ending for “Symphony under the Sky” at Cannonsburg.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Recap: Tito Puente Jr., Grand Rapids Pops, turn Cannonsburg into ‘mambo mountain’ at D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops

By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk -

Few people know the difference between mambo and salsa. Once the music starts, even fewer care.

No matter which style percussionist Tito Puente Jr. and the Grand Rapids Symphony played, the audience simply couldn’t sit still at the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops on Thursday, Aug. 2.

I’ve been at the Picnic Pops for every year for its 24-year-history, and I don’t ever remember seeing so many people dancing at Cannonsburg.

“This is mambo mountain here tonight!” Puente Jr. told the cheering audience, and he was right.

Tito Puente Jr., son of the legendary Puerto Rican percussionist Tito Puente Sr., joined the Grand Rapids Pops for a hot and spicy evening of mambo, merengue and more made famous by the elder Puente Sr. who was known as “The King” or “El Rey.”

Whether that meant “The King of the Timbales” or “The King of Latin Jazz” or one of any number of possible titles bestowed on the elder musician from El Barrio in Spanish Harlem, Puente Sr. was a pioneering bandleader who not only bought Afro-Cuban jazz to mainstream America, he helped invent the genre.

Tito Puente Sr. died in 2000, but his music did not. Beginning with Mambo Gozon, Puente Jr. pounded out the same energetic, high-voltage entertainment from his timbales that his father once did.

GRS Picnic Pops with Tito Puente Jr.

Aside from a few departures, such as Cuando Calienta el Sol, made famous by Luis Miguel, the special-event concert at the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops took audiences back to the days of the Palladium in New York City.

Associate Conductor John Varineau led the Grand Rapids Pops in more than 90 minutes of energetic music full of percussion dogfights on tunes such as Ran Kan Kan, and blazing brass and sultry saxophones, including plenty of solos in the orchestra, on tunes such as Babarabatiri, another of Puente Sr.’s biggest hits.

Back in the day, Puente Sr. had such famous Cuban singers as Lupe Victoria Yolí Raymon, better known as “La Lupe,” and Celia Cruz, the “Queen of Salsa,” on stage with him. Puente Jr. had Puerto Rican-born Melina Almodovar.

The singer known as “La Muñeca de la Salsa” or “The Doll of Salsa” was a sensation all her own, belting out Quimbara with all the fire and sass of Celia Cruz while lighting up the stage in a glamorous gown.

Oye Como Va was made famous by guitarist Carlos Santana’s 1971 recording, but Puente Sr. wrote it and recorded it a decade later. It was the final number of the night, and it brought the house down.

Puente Jr. told the audience at Cannonsburg he was inspired to carry on the work of his father who earned seven Grammy Awards, garnered 14 nominations, and played on hundreds of recordings.

Puente Sr.’s his final concert in April 2000 was with the Músicos de la Orquesta Sinfónica de Puerto Rico in San Juan just a few weeks before his death.  

“I’m going to take it to the maximum level,” Puente Jr. recalled his father saying. “The symphonic level.”

That’s exactly what the Grand Rapids Symphony Picnic Pops audience got at Cannonsburg Ski Area.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Sunday, August 5, 2018

Recap: Grand Rapids Pops and Mickey Thomas rock Cannonsburg with '80s Rewind'

By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk -

When Mickey Thomas of Jefferson Starship first sang We Built This City in the 1980s, he was referring to rock 'n roll in San Francisco. When Thomas joined the Grand Rapids Pops for 80s Rewind, he was singing about orchestral pops as well as rock 'n roll for the community of West Michigan gathered at Canonsburg Ski Area.

Either way, Thomas and the Grand Rapids Pops were a big hit for the second concert of the Grand Rapids Symphony's D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops.

The Grand Rapids Symphony remembered the 1980s, with music by George Michael, Pat Benatar, Billy Joel, the Scorpions, and, of course, Jefferson Starship. Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt led the Grand Rapids Pops in plenty of big hits by some of the biggest acts of the 1980s.

Thomas was the star of the show, but his backing band did a great job of rocking the hills at Canonsburg for an audience that was on its feet by the end of the night on both Thursday and Friday, July 19 and 20.

80s Rewind! at the GR Symphony Picnic Pops

Certainly, a celebration of music of the 80s could last for days, but in the 110-minute show on Thursday (a little shorter on Friday due to rain), the Grand Rapids Symphony and special guests served up plenty of the best of the 1980s with songs that had the audience singing along most of the night.

The funny thing about the show was that the performers singing songs of the 1980s were too young to remember the 1980s. In fact, vocalist Benjamin Caron told the audience he was born in 1987, which was good for a laugh. Nevertheless, it just goes to show that the best songs from that era are timeless and embraced by listeners spanning many generations.

Perhaps the most important skill for singers leading tribute shows is their ability to be musical chameleons, covering a wide range of singers. Christine LaFond especially was convincing with her interpretation of singers as diverse as Irene Cara and Grace Slick

Caron had the audience worked up early in the show channeling George Michaels singing Faith from his solo career as well as a lively version of Wake Me Up Before You Go Go, Michaels’ first big hit with Wham! On the flip side, he gave a fair impression of Bono singing one of U2's biggest hits on With Or Without You

LaFond was just as impressive on her version of Pat Benatar's Shadows of the Night, charming the audience in a performance topped only by her version of the epic rock anthem What a Feeling from Flashdance.

The entire ensemble revved the audience up on the Scorpions' Rock You Like a Hurricane. And when they got to Celebration by Kool and the Gang, the audience was ready to have a good time.

That set the stage for Mickey Thomas, who only came with five songs, but they were five really good ones.

Plenty of aging rock 'n roll singers at the end of their career struggle to hit the high notes that made them famous back in the day. Thomas, however, still has the goods. As he kicked off Find Your Way Back to open his set, it was immediately clear he had no trouble finding his way back.

LaFond joined Thomas on the duet Nothing's Gonna Stop Us, which Thomas originally sang with Grace Slick. But LaFond sounded so much like the Chrome Nun, you'd easily believe you were listening to both original singers.

The best surprise of the evening came when the band and orchestra kicked off Don't Stop Believing, which brought the audience to its feet with a roar. It didn't matter that it wasn't Mickey Thomas's song or Jefferson Starship's song. Thomas easily convinced the audience he could sing Steve Perry, and the band and Grand Rapids Symphony proved it could fill in for the rest of Journey.

When Thomas launched into We Built This City, the audience came roaring to its feet, dancing on the hill, dancing in front of the stage, having the time of their lives.

Which is exactly what the Grand Rapids Symphony's D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops is all about – kicking back, relaxing and having a good time in the great outdoors with great music.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Monday, July 23, 2018

Recap: 2018 D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops opens with fireworks, 'The 3 Maestros,' and an all-American experience

By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk -

Picnics are as American as baseball and apple pie. Grand Rapids Symphony’s Picnic Pops may be even more so.

At the opening concerts of the 2018 D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops, the immortal words of Emma Lazarus – “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” – inscribed upon the Statue of Liberty, rang out across the hills of Cannonsburg Ski area.

A singer of Italian heritage, Daniel Narducci, sang a stirring version of “God Bless America,” a song written by a Russian Jew, in a performance that inspired an entire audience to slowly rise to its feet.

An African-American attorney recited the words of a former prairie lawyer, Abraham Lincoln, accompanied by music composed in the darkest days of World War II by the a son of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants.

And a Brazilian-born conductor led music composed by a Russian, celebrating a victory over the French, played for an American audience, who enjoyed the fireworks that followed.

That sums up the impact of the all-American, star-spangled experience that the Grand Rapids Symphony provided to open its 24th season of “Symphony under the Sky” on Thursday and Friday, July 12-13.

GR Symphony's 2018 Picnic Pops and Classical Fireworks

Slightly muggy but warm and dry weather greeted audiences for the concert titled Classical Fireworks and The 3 Maestros featuring Music Director Marcelo Lehninger, Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt, and Associate Conductor John Varineau all sharing the podium.

Three conductors meant three times the fun for the Grand Rapids Pops audience.

Homegrown entertainment included Lehninger conducting an exciting performance of “Mambo” from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, Varineau presiding over an elegantly polished version of Johann Strauss Jr.’s Blue Danube Waltz, and Bernhardt leading a thrilling version of the Flying Theme from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

But there was so much more.

Musicians of the Grand Rapids Symphony gave a sparkling performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to ‘Candide,’ four-and-a-half minutes of music that’s a workout for an entire orchestra.

Varineau, with clarinet in hand, conducted and soloed on the poignant Viktor’s Tale from John Williams’ score to the film “The Terminal,” and he led the orchestra in “An Armed Forces Salute,” a spirited medley of melodies from the different branches of the U.S. Military.

Narducci, a baritone with a handsome voice, joined Bernhardt and the orchestra for a sweet, sentimental arrangement of three songs by Stephen Foster, “The Camptown Races,” “Beautiful Dreamer” and “Oh! Susanna.”

Patrick Miles Jr., former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, joined the orchestra to narrate Aaron Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait,” one of the greatest works by one of the greatest American composers. Bernhardt capably mined the drama for all its worth, while Miles, a native of Grand Rapids, narrated in simple, understated fashion Lincoln’s words from the Gettysburg Address and other writings.

Lehninger took the podium to end the evening with a revelatory performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. It’s well known and much loved, especially for its dramatic ending with cathedral bells chiming and cannons exploding. But the piece goes through many changes of mood, beginning with fervent prayers of the Russian people for deliverance, followed by the sounds of French invaders, their repulsion by the Russian Army, and the celebration that follows.

Lehninger skillfully guided the Grand Rapids Symphony through its journey, resulting in an unusually satisfying performance for an outdoor setting.

The fireworks that followed were an absolute delight.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Sunday, July 15, 2018

Grand Rapids Pops' 'Symphony under the Sky' returns for 24th summer of D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops

When winter finally recedes, and a timid spring gives way to Technicolor summer, West Michigan throws a party.

Just in time for the party, during the heart of summer, the Grand Rapids Pops offers a cadre of concerts that have delighted an incredible range of audiences, from symphony aficionados to new crowds of people for 23 years.

For its 24th annual summer season, Grand Rapids Symphony’s D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops returns in July and August with symphonic blockbusters, pop/rock hits of the 1980s, high-voltage merengue and mambo, and the original songs of Ben Folds.

The D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops is symphonic music at its eclectic and exuberant best, offering West Michigan a relaxed, casual setting for guests who come to Cannonsburg Ski Area with a cooler in one hand and a blanket in the other.

The D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops begins on July 12-13 with Classical Fireworks and the 3 Maestros and ends on August 3 with the highly influential and wickedly fun Ben Folds. In between, concerts feature a celebration of the 1980s in with 80s Rewind!, a symphonic mashup of Beethoven v. Coldplay, and the Afro-Cuban rhythms of Tito Puente Jr. in a one-night only event.

Prior to the start of concerts, gates at Cannonsburg Ski Area open at 5:45 p.m. for picnicking and pre-concert entertainment including free, kid-friendly activities such as face painting, crafts, and a musical instrument petting zoo.

Guests are welcome to pack your own picnic baskets and coolers or purchase food from the grill at the Cannonsburg concession stand. Alcoholic beverages are permitted on the grounds, and parking is free for concertgoers.

D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops kicks off the program with all three Grand Rapids Symphony conductors – Music Director Marcelo Lehninger, Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt, and Associate Conductor John Varineau – on stage in Classical Fireworks and the 3 Maestros, on Thursday and Friday, July 12-13 at 8 p.m.

“I’m not sure it’s legal to have three conductors on one program,” Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt explained, “but we’re going for it.”

The conductors will lead the Grand Rapids Symphony in an Americana-themed concert, replete with An Armed Forces Salute, God Bless America, and Tchaikovsky’s show-stopping 1812 Overture. And, with the spirit of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture in mind, fireworks will fill the sky to celebrate the patriotic spirit of the season, along with the warmth and vibrancy of summer.

Teased hair. Acid washed jeans. Copious amounts of neon and Walkman players that made music portable. The 80s were a decade unlike any other, and the Grand Rapids Symphony celebrates the musical stylings of the decade with 80s Rewind! on Thursday and Friday, July 19-20 at 7:30 p.m.

Special guest Mickey Thomas of Starship performs We Built This City, Sara, and Find Your Way Back with his signature crisp and clairvoyant vocals.

Conducted by Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt, the Grand Rapids Symphony, together with solo artists and a full band, performs the alternative pop and industrial rock songs that defined a decade, including U2’s Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, Wham’s Wake Me Up Before You Go Go and Scorpion’s Rock You Like a Hurricane

Don your favorite George Michaels T-shirt and wear a raspberry beret… or just come as you are: Either way, an evening of the 80s awaits. 

It’s no understatement to say that Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 – his “Eroica” symphony – changed the classical music world. With his penchant for exploring the universal themes of mankind, the classical composer crafted a work that traverses time and space with a powerful force – a sort of gravitational pull – drawing listeners from all corners of the globe near.

The British rock group Coldplay, while using vastly different sonic structures, explores universal themes such as doubt, fear and ultimately, hope in songs that have garnered seven Grammy Awards and reached millions of fans.

In Beethoven v. Coldplay, conductor, composer, arranger, and producer Steve Hackman fuses the worlds of Beethoven and Coldplay together to stunning effect, offering listeners a symphonic experience punctuated by a trio of rich voices who sing some of Coldplay’s best lyrics from Clocks, The Scientist and Viva la Vida, among several other songs – in an adaptation of Beethoven’s work that is as harmonic as it is creative.

Guest Conductor Steve Hackman conducts the Grand Rapids Symphony in the masterful mashup on Thursday and Friday, July 26-27 at 7:30 p.m.

Tito Puente, eight-time Grammy Award-winning Goodwill Ambassador of Latin American music, began a musical legacy that earned him the moniker, “El Rey” (The King). The son of native Puerto Ricans, Puente Sr.’s story began in New York City’s Spanish Harlem, where he started his musical career. For over 50 years until his death in 2000, Puente composed and performed extensively, furnishing a vivid array of Afro-Cuban sounds with mambo, merengue, salsa, and samba to a global audience.

Carrying this legacy forward, Tito Puente Jr. offers the music of his father with a unique, symphonic flavor. With the Grand Rapids Pops, the original symphonic arrangements of Puente Sr. are on full display as Puente Jr. takes the audience on a musical journey back to the Palladium Ballrooms of New York City.

Associate Conductor John Varineau is on the podium as Puente Jr. and the Grand Rapids Symphony perform salsa, cha-cha, bolero, and mambo together with Puente Jr.’s all-star rhythm and horn section.

Feel free to bring your dancing shoes! With hits like Oye Como Va, Ran Kan Kan and Mambo Gazon, it may just be hard to keep your feet planted in one place.  The one-night only event is on Thursday, August 2 and begins at 7:30 p.m.

Ben Folds, with piano-driven hits from Ben Folds Five and his numerous solo albums, is regarded as a major music influencer of our generation. With memorable songs including The Luckiest, Brick, and You Don’t Know Me, plus his irreverent, improv-performances on YouTube on songs such as Ode to Merton, Folds has garnered a large following. 

The pianist, singer and songwriter’s reach only further expanded with regular appearances as a judge on NBC-TV’s a cappella show The Sing Off, and more recently, when Folds was named as the first-ever Artistic Advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra.

Folds, who last performed with the Grand Rapids Symphony in DeVos Hal in 2014, returns to the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops for a one-night only performance. 

Folds’ music – with lyrics that alternatively pierce and inspire – ranges from snarky to tender, often in the same song. Coupled with pop-rock sensibilities and a penchant for symphonic music, Folds’ genre-bending music is inventive to the core. 

His most recent solo album, So There, soared to No. 1 on both the Billboard Classical and Classical Crossover charts and features his original Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in addition to symphonic-infused pop songs.

Guest Conductor Jacomo Bairos, who has conducted the Grand Rapids Symphony twice before, leads the Grand Rapids Symphony with Ben Folds on Friday, August 3 at 7:30 p.m.

Single tickets as well as season tickets offering big discounts are available. 

Advance lawn tickets to Classical Fireworks, 80s Rewind!, Beethoven v. Coldplay, or Tito Puente Jr., are $20 for adults or $5 for ages 2-18. Children younger than age 2 are admitted for free.

Members of the MySymphony360, the Grand Rapids Symphony’s club for young adults ages 21 to 35, can attend for $15. Active duty, reserve and National Guard members of the U.S. Military may purchase up to two tickets for $15 each

Members of the community receiving financial assistance from the State of Michigan or U.S. Military households can receive up to four free tickets through the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Symphony Scorecard.

Other individual tickets in advance are $30 for reserved chairs, $51 for individual table seats and $408 for a full table of eight.

Advance lawn tickets to Ben Folds are $40 for adults or $5 for ages 2-18. Children younger than age 2 are admitted for free.

MySymphony360 members can attend for $25. Active duty and reserve members of the U.S. Military may buy up to two tickets for $25 each.

Other individual tickets are $50 for reserved chairs, $60 for individual table seats, and $480 for a full table of eight.

All single tickets for all concerts are $5 more on the day of the show. 

Single tickets are available from the Grand Rapids Symphony office by calling (616) 454-9451 ext. 4 weekdays or (616) 885-1241 evenings; or in person at 300 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 100; or online at

Tickets are also available at the gate at the night of the concert for an additional $5 Tickets also may be purchased through Ticketmaster at (800) 982-2787, or at Ticketmaster outlets at select D&W Fresh Markets, Family Fare Stores and Walmart. Tickets purchased at these locations will include a Ticketmaster service fee.

Save up to 30 percent off single-ticket prices with a 3-Concert Series subscription for any seat or save up to 15 percent off single-ticket lawn seats with a 6-ticket Flexpass.

The 3-Concert Series subscription is good for any seats to Classical Fireworks, 80s Rewind! and Beethoven v. Coldplay. Subscriptions for lawn seats are $42 for adults or $15 for children ages 2-18. Subscriptions for general admission chair seating are $75. Tickets for an individual reserved table seat are $144 or $1,152 to reserve an entire table for eight.

The Flexpass 6-Pack offers six lawn tickets that can be used in any combination, on any concert night, for Classical Fireworks, 80s Rewind! and Beethoven v. Coldplay. Flexpasses are $102 for adults. Flexpasses cannot be used for the special events in August.

The 3-Concert Series, Flexpass, and individual table and chair tickets can be purchased through the GRS box office by calling (616) 454-9451 ext. 4 weekdays or (616) 885-1241 evenings; or in person at 300 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 100; or online at

-- By Jenn Collard, Grand Rapids Symphony Public Relations Intern

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Tuesday, July 10, 2018

'Blandford Enchanted' fundraiser garners GRS Symphony Friends its second national award in a row

The Grand Rapids Symphony is the recipient of two recent awards for community service and outreach in West Michigan.

Grand Rapids Symphony’s affiliate, Grand Rapids Symphony Friends has been awarded the Gold Book Award of Excellence from the League of American Orchestras for “Blandford Enchanted,” an event that transformed Blandford Nature Center into a Fairy Garden.

It was the second consecutive Gold Book Award for Grand Rapids Symphony Friends, which formerly was known as the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Women’s Committee.

In May, the orchestra was honored at Arbor Circle’s Annual Spring Dinner 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.

Blandford Enchanted,” held last summer June 2017, was honored earlier this month in Chicago at the annual national convention of the League of American Orchestras.

"It was a honor for Grand Rapids Symphony Friends to be chosen for a second year in a row for a Gold Book Award of Excellence," said Bonnie Monhart, president of Grand Rapids Symphony Friends. "Each year the League Volunteer Council recognizes outstanding fundraising and community engagement events, as well as sharing effective ways to focus on issues facing volunteer organizations of orchestras across the country."

Fairy Gardens are small, but “Blandford Enchanted” took over the buildings and grounds of Blandford Nature Center at 1715 Hillburn Ave. NW. Some 35 meticulously crafted Fairy Houses were displayed display in Blandford Nature Center’s Mary Jane Dockeray Welcome Center. Plenty more was on display outside on the grounds of the 143-acre nature preserve.

In addition to the miniature dwellings created by local artists and designers, live performances by Symphony musicians, a world premier ballet performed by the Grand Rapids Ballet, storytelling, and an evening Lantern Walk all were part of the event attended by over 1,300 in June 2017, raising almost $14,000. 

"The audience was delighted with our Blandford Enchanted Fairy Garden event," said Monhart, who presented before the Volunteer Council at the convention in June in Chicago.

Last year, Symphony Friends was honored with the Gold Book Award for its Rumsey Street Bazaar, a three-day bazaar dubbed “Classics Remixed,” held in the mostly Hispanic neighborhood southwest of downtown Grand Rapids.

The League of American Orchestra’s Gold Book Award recognizes outstanding projects created and implemented by symphony orchestra volunteer associations throughout the United States and Canada. Projects are judged by the Volunteer Council, an organization of community leaders who have demonstrated outstanding support for their symphony orchestras. The Council’s awards honor volunteers who help to insure the success of their organizations.

"Personally, presenting and participating in the Volunteer Council at the League of American Orchestras Convention the past two years was an opportunity to interface with a number of nation-wide symphony volunteer organizations," Monhart said. "I walked away with new ideas for fundraising events as well as tips on managing them. Our very successful Kitchen Tour event this past spring was a spin-off from several other symphony volunteer organization's fundraisers."

Arbor Circle, a Grand Rapids-based community service organization, assists more than 20,000 people per year to overcome life’s unexpected challenges through more than 50 programs in counseling, education and prevention addressing mental health, substance use and family concerns.

Grand Rapids Symphony Friends, formerly known as the Grand Rapids Symphony Women’s Committee, has a long history of supporting the growth of the Grand Rapids Symphony and furthering appreciation and understanding of music. Founded in 1941, the group played a critical role in the orchestra’s growth during the World War II era.  Today, the committee organizes projects and fundraisers including its Encore cookbook celebrating Grand Rapids culinary and culture.

In 2017, Symphony Friends activities contributed $30,000 to the Grand Rapids Symphony.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Tuesday, July 3, 2018

$1 million grant from the Wege Foundation paves the way for a fundamental transformation for the Grand Rapids Symphony

Paul Doyle, who grew up in Brooklyn, was introduced to classical music by his grandmother who originally was from Trinidad.

When he was in third grade, Doyle attended his first concert in New York City’s Carnegie Hall, where the Grand Rapids Symphony appeared in April. He later played French horn through high school.

Today, Doyle is founder and CEO of Inclusive Performance Strategies in Grand Rapids, which develops and implements progressive organizational transformation.

“Our community in Grand Rapids is growing. It’s exploding. But how do we make sure that everyone feels a part of it?” Doyle said.

Grand Rapids Symphony, with help from the Wege Foundation, is launching a new initiative to build diversity, equity and inclusion into every aspect of the orchestra’s operations.

Faces of Grand Rapids Symphony's audiences

The Wege Foundation has awarded the Grand Rapids Symphony a grant of more than $1 million to share live orchestral music with a broader audience. Over the next four years, the Grand Rapids Symphony will create new concerts and events, and develop new music educational opportunities alongside the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Gateway to Music, a matrix of 17 education and access programs that already reach 86,000 children, students and adults across 13 counties in West Michigan.

The first event, “Symphony on the West Side,” will be a free outdoor concert at 7 p.m., Saturday, July 21, in John Ball Park. Associate conductor John Varineau will lead a program of light classical music, featuring guest vocalist Edye Evans Hyde, at 7 p.m. on Saturday, July 21 in the park on the West Side of downtown Grand Rapids near John Ball Zoo.

It’s just the first of a series of events in the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Neighborhood Concert Series.

Today, it’s the duty of an orchestra to connect not only with its usual audience, but with its entire community, according to Grand Rapids Symphony Music Director Marcelo Lehninger.

“A symphony orchestra in the 21st century has become a service organization,” Lehninger said. “We’re here not only to entertain our audience but also to serve our community.”

President Peter M. Perez called the Wege Foundation grant “truly transformational.”

“In the past, a symphony orchestra’s goal was to perform great works of classical music. Today, the Grand Rapids Symphony aspires, not just to play music for the community, but to make music together with its community,” Perez said. “Truly serving our entire community means we have to genuinely and faithfully be a reflection of everyone in the community.”

“The Grand Rapids Symphony is your symphony, and it’s my symphony,” Perez added. “And by working together, we can make it our symphony.”

Past successes in collaborating with community partners include the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Symphony with Soul concert, launched in 2002, and Celebration of Soul dinner and awards ceremony, which has fostered connections between the orchestra and West Michigan’s African-American community for more than a dozen years.

Though the Grand Rapids Symphony touches the lives of 200,000 attendees per year, many more in West Michigan have never experienced a symphony orchestra live and in person.

“The Wege Foundation is pleased to support the Symphony in enhancing the diversity of its programming, musicians and staff, as well as the inclusivity of its outreach,” said Wege Foundation President Mark Van Putten. “By transforming itself the Symphony can help transform West Michigan in enduring ways that reach beyond the performing arts.”

Three years ago, the Grand Rapids Symphony launched Symphony Scorecard to open its concert hall doors to a wider audience by providing free tickets to those with financial challenges or economic barriers. Since 2016, the program launched with funding from the Daniel and Pamella DeVos Foundation has supplied more than 8,000 free tickets to members of the community who receive financial assistance from the state or to the families of men and women serving in the U.S. Military on active, reserve or guard duty.

Everyone is welcome, according to Lehninger.

“Sometime people feel they don’t belong,” Lehninger said. “But I have a passion and a mission to reach the hearts and souls of everyone in this community. We’re trying to show them that, yes, they do belong. Hopefully, they’ll understand that it’s their orchestra, too.”

The Wege grant also will transform the orchestra from within through new positions in the organization. Funds will establish:

A Community Engagement position on staff to develop, manage and coordinate all Grand Rapids Symphony activities to serve an audience that’s growing more diverse every day.

A Musician Fellow who will perform with the Grand Rapids Symphony. During the two-year fellowship, the musician will be mentored by GRS musicians and gain practical experience toward launching a career as a professional musician.

The Wege Grant also will fund the expansion of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s successful Mosaic Scholarship program, a mentoring program for African-American and Latino music students. Created with funding by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, teens ages 13 to 18 are provided with musical instruments and private lessons with GRS musicians along with opportunities to perform and to attend concerts.

A new component, Mosaic Music Majors, will collaborate with music students of color in local universities and colleges to mentor, advise and develop the skills and talents of collegiate musicians seeking to become professionals.

Over the next four years, the Wege grant will be a game changer for the Grand Rapids Symphony, according to Associate Conductor John Varineau, who just completed his 33rd season on staff with the Grand Rapids Symphony.

“It’s going to change the way we 'do business' and the way we approach all of our already outstanding artistic products. Without compromising our lofty artistic vision, and without sacrificing our dedication to the best in our symphonic heritage, I am confident that, with the help of the Wege Foundation, the Grand Rapids Symphony is going to look and sound differently,” Varineau said. “In just a few short years, how and what we present will be even more representative of the entire Grand Rapids community so that everyone will be able to truthfully call us ‘our Grand Rapids Symphony.’”

The challenge is to create and sustain intentional relationship building so that the wider community not only participates in Grand Rapids Symphony’s activities, it also sees that it plays a role in supporting and providing for the orchestra.

“We know the ‘why.’ This is working on the ‘how,’ Doyle said. “The key to this work is continuous commitment and effort. It’s about progressive improvement, not postponed perfection.”

“I think we have the opportunity to create a best-practice model,” Doyle added. “For Grand Rapids to be on the front end of enhancing quality of life and community, I think is very cool.”

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Thursday, June 21, 2018
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