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Grand Rapids Symphony remembers Helen DeVos, its dearest friend and greatest champion


Helen DeVos, one of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s dearest friends, has died, but her love and support for the orchestra will last forever.

It’s safe to say that without Helen DeVos, the Grand Rapids Symphony would not exist as we know it today. For nearly 50 years, Helen DeVos was the Grand Rapids Symphony’s biggest supporter, and its greatest champion.

“Helen was a very special friend of the Grand Rapids Symphony,” said President and CEO Peter Perez. “Music was so important to Helen, and her influence over this organization was vast and heartfelt because it was such a personal part of her life.”

For decades, Helen and her husband, Rich DeVos, have been devoted patrons of the arts in Grand Rapids and West Michigan. Providing support that would lead to the opening of DeVos Performance Hall, the Grand Rapids Symphony’s principal home, was just one of many causes the DeVoses supported.

But the Grand Rapids Symphony has been especially near and dear to her heart. Less than two weeks before her death on Oct. 18, 2017, Helen and Rich DeVos were in the audience for the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Classical Series concerts in DeVos Hall.

Helen DeVos awarded GR Symphony BRAVO! Lifetime Achievement Award

“After attending many concerts over the years, we know that the orchestra provides inspiration, education and enjoyment for the people of West Michigan,” Helen DeVos said last year.

When Helen DeVos joined the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Board of Directors in 1971, it was a community orchestra with an annual budget of $100,000 that presented 10 concerts a year.

Today, the Grand Rapids Symphony is a world-class professional orchestra with a roster of 80 full-time and part-time musicians, performing concerts in eight different subscription series plus special events, all with an annual operating budget of just over $10 million dollars.

“She believed the great community of Grand Rapids needed and deserved a great orchestra,” Perez said. “Her inspiration and support made it possible for a fine community orchestra to grow into a world-class professional ensemble and the second largest performing arts organization in Michigan.”

Music Director Marcelo Lehninger said the depth of support for the Grand Rapids Symphony from people such as Helen DeVos played an important role in his decision to accept the position with the Symphony.

“She’s made a difference in making our community better,” said Lehninger, who became Music Director in June 2016. “She believed in the importance of music, and because of her giving, the Grand Rapids Symphony is what it is today.”

Helen DeVos, however, did more than donate money. For nearly 20 years, she was an active member of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Board of Directors, serving as board secretary from 1974 to 1982 and providing quiet leadership and wise counsel to the organization’s leadership.

Following her retirement, she was named an Honorary Board Member in 1991, and she became one of the first recipients of the symphony’s BRAVO! Award, the Grand Rapids Symphony’s highest honor.

In 2007, the Grand Rapids Symphony presented Helen DeVos with its first BRAVO! Lifetime Achievement Award at a gala dinner and benefit concert in DeVos Performance Hall that also raised more than $25,000 for the orchestra’s educational programs.

“I’m not sure I merit all that,” Helen DeVos said at the time.

Her friends and colleagues thought otherwise.

“What I think is very interesting is, if Mrs. DeVos were here, she’d be very humbled by this,” Associate Conductor John Varineau said to WZZM-TV 13 during a public visitation that drew throngs of well-wishers to the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel on Monday, Oct. 23.

“She’d probably be saying, ‘What’s all the fuss about?’” Varineau added with a laugh. “That’s just the way she was.”

In 1974, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation provided the initial funds to hire five full-time musicians – two violinists, a violist, a cellist and a double bassist, beginning the process of transforming the Grand Rapids Symphony from a community orchestra to a professional orchestra. Four of the five were organized as the DeVos String Quartet. Today, the four principal players of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s first and second violins, viola and cello sections continue to perform as the DeVos String Quartet.

Soon, a woodwind quintet, a brass quintet and a timpanist and a pianist would follow. Significantly, the DeVos Foundation also funded the first full-time development director to raise money for the orchestra.

Past Board Chair Fred Keller, who served alongside her on the Board from 1971 to 1990, recalled in 2007 that it was “a great privilege to work with Helen.”

“She was really clear in what she believed in and what her principles were,” he told The Grand Rapids Press. “At the same time, she gave the leadership quite a bit of freedom.”

Another woman, True McDonald, recruited Helen DeVos to serve on the Grand Rapids Symphony Board of Directors.

“She warned me it was a working board, and it was absolutely,” Helen DeVos recalled. “We may have had differing opinions now and then, but in the end we shared a passion for the symphony and worked together for its continuing success and advancement.”

Helen DeVos guaranteed that her vision for the future growth and success of the Grand Rapids Symphony would live on into the future. In 2012, the orchestra launched its $40 million Legacy of Excellence Campaign to build a permanent endowment to secure the orchestra’s future.

Helen and Richard DeVos led the campaign with a $20 million leadership gift. Within four years, the Grand Rapids Symphony met its goal, securing an additional $20 million in cash, gifts, ongoing pledges and estate plans from more than 150 individuals, couples, corporations and foundations.

“We believe in the Grand Rapids Symphony and are excited to help the orchestra continue to serve thousands of people and their families each year,” Helen DeVos said last year following the conclusion of the campaign. “We appreciate the generous participation of the many people who have joined together to support the Symphony and the artistic excellence and educational programs our region appreciates.”

Once fully funded, revenue from investments from the Legacy of Excellence Campaign is expected to contribute about $2 million per year to the orchestra’s operations.

"Helen’s love of music drew us into the organization, and we’ve experienced the Symphony’s growth into an orchestra recognized nationally for the quality of its concerts and educational programs,” said Richard DeVos at the conclusion of the campaign in April 2016. “We’re glad to help preserve and sustain our orchestra, which helps create a positive atmosphere for growth in our community.”

The former Helen Van Wesep came by her love of the Grand Rapids Symphony honestly. At age 4 she began piano lessons. As a child growing up in Grand Rapids, her parents took her to concerts with such legendary performers as violinist Fritz Kreisler and tenor Jussi Bjoerling.

But it was a music appreciation class that she took at Calvin College that changed everything.

“That’s probably the genesis of my enjoyment of symphonic music,” she said in 2007.

At the 2007 BRAVO! Awards, Helen DeVos made it clear that, through her support of the Grand Rapids Symphony, she hoped to give the gift of music to future generations in West Michigan.

“Music did play a big part in our lives,” she told the BRAVO! Awards audience. “And thanks to this orchestra, children growing up in Grand Rapids today will be able to have their own musical memories.”

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Thursday, October 26, 2017 | 0 comments

Grand Rapids Symphony plays Baroque-era music of 'Charlie's Angels' in Grand Rapids and Holland

It’s good to be the king, Charles II of England must have thought over and over.

It wasn’t so good for his father in 17th century England. King Charles I was deposed and beheaded and Oliver Cromwell took power as Lord Protector until Cromwell’s death ended the military dictatorship, and Parliament restored the monarchy.

But with the coronation of King Charles II, one of the most popular and beloved kings in English history, music returned to court life, theaters reopened, and entertainment forbidden during Cromwell’s rule became a part of English life once again.

The “merry monarch” loved good times and good music and encouraged the development of English composers.

Grand Rapids Symphony performs music from the court of King Charles II for The Baroque Concert: Charlie’s Angels on Friday and Saturday.

“We aren’t playing the music of the 1970s TV show or the movies,” said Garry Clarke, a British conductor, violinist and early music specialist.

The Grand Rapids Symphony, however, is performing music from the Restoration Era of King Charles II, who was fond of French music and who was long suspected of harboring Roman Catholic leanings.

“I figure they must have played like angels in the king’s private chambers,” Clarke said.

Clarke, former director of The Baroque Band, leads the Grand Rapids Symphony in the opening of the Crowe Horwath Great Eras series at 8 p.m. on Friday, October 20, in St. Cecilia Music Center, 24 Ransom Ave. NW. Tickets start at $26 adults, $5 students for the Great Eras concert.

Highlights of the evening concert will be given at 10 a.m. Friday for The Baroque Coffee Concert, part of the Porter Hills Coffee Classics series, a one-hour program held without intermission. Doors open at 9 a.m. for complementary coffee and pastry. Tickets start at $16 for the Coffee Classics program.

On Saturday, the Grand Rapids Symphony returns to Holland with The Baroque Concert: Charlie’s Angels at 8 p.m. October 21, in the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts at Hope College. Tickets, available at the door, start at $20 adults, $5 students.

For tickets or more information, call (616) 454-9451 ext. 4 or go online to

The Baroque Concert is the opening program of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s 2017-18 four-concert Crowe Horwath Great Eras series. Music Director Marcelo Lehninger leads the next three concerts, each focusing on a particular era in music. Upcoming concerts focus on the Romantic-era music of Dvorak and Tchaikovsky on Jan. 5, 2018; on the Classical-era works of Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart on Feb. 16; and on music of the 20th Century by Copland, Stravinsky and more on March 30. Season tickets are available.

Clarke, who teaches at Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, conducts the Grand Rapids Symphony in music English composers including John Blow, Henry Purcell and Matthew Locke. Blow taught Purcell, and Purcell succeeded Locke as composer in ordinary to King Charles II.

One of the first notable English composers in music history, Purcell landed his first job as composer for the court violin band called Twenty-Four Violins.

“The band didn’t actually have 24 violinists,” Clarke said. “That was the actual number of string players including violas and cellos.”

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Wednesday, October 18, 2017 | 0 comments

Grand Rapids Symphony awarded $25,000 grant from Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs

Grand Rapids Symphony has received a $25,000 grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs for its 2017-18 season.

The state agency has awarded more than $10.6 million for arts and culture in 2018, a 10 percent increase from the $9.6 million awarded last October 2017.

The Grand Rapids Symphony’s $25,000 award for Operational Support is used to support both artistic and education programming.

“The Grand Rapids Symphony’s mission is to perform great music that moves the human soul, but it’s also our goal to serve our entire community,” said Peter Perez, President and CEO.

“We’re well aware that the money that comes to us from the MCACA is money that comes from the people of Michigan,” Perez said. “Through such programs as Symphony Scorecard and Free for Families, which provide free tickets to concerts, and our Music for Health initiative, which sends musicians into area hospitals, we hope to give back to the community that helps support us.”

MCACA’s 474 grants to music festivals, art centers, school districts, historical societies, art museums and symphony orchestras across the Great Lake State cover costs associated with operations, projects, capital improvements, arts-in-education residences, services to the field, and regional re-granting initiatives.

The 84 awards to organizations headquartered in West Michigan total $2.5 million in the counties of Allegan, Kalamazoo, Kent, Muskegon and Ottawa Counties.

 “These grants provide vital support for the ongoing cultural development of communities throughout Michigan,” said John Bracey, MCACA executive director. “We appreciate the support of Gov. Snyder and the legislature for increasing funding to groups and events that inspire cultural pride and appreciation for the heritage of our communities.”

The 15-member council, appointed by the governor, is an agency within the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, which serves to attract business and jobs, foster community development, and promote Michigan’s image. Grand Rapids is represented by Christian Gaines, exec of ArtPrize, and Pamella DeVos, a past GRS board member and current honorary board member.

Funding approved on Sept. 15 in Lansing to individual arts organizations was given for Arts in Education, Capital Improvements and Project Support along with Operational Support. Other money was provided to regional re-granting initiatives.

Grand Rapids Symphony last year received $35,000 from MCACA for 2017. The previous year, the state agency awarded $45,000 to the orchestra for 2016.

Among other orchestras in Michigan, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra received two grants totaling $124,000. Ann Arbor Symphony was awarded $36,000. Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra and Lansing Symphony Orchestra each were given $28,000, and West Michigan Symphony in Muskegon received $18,000.

A total of $1.125 million was awarded to organizations based in Kent County and $223,800 to cultural entities in Ottawa County for the 2018 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30, 2018.

In the Grand Rapids area, John Ball Zoo and Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park both were awarded a $70,000 for capital improvements, the largest grants to organizations based in Kent County. John Ball Zoo received a second grant of $35,000 for operational support, and Meijer Gardens was given a second grant for $54,000 for operational support.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Tuesday, October 10, 2017 | 0 comments

Popular, Norwegian guest conductor Rune Bergmann returns to Grand Rapids Symphony stage with music of Sibelius

For a conductor, a first appearance with new orchestra is a little like a blind date.

“It’s always about chemistry,” according to conductor Rune Bergmann.

The Norwegian-born conductor’s first date with the Grand Rapids Symphony two years ago led to a special return appearance several months later. This week Bergmann and the Grand Rapids Symphony will share the stage for the third time in just three seasons.

Bergmann, 41, returns to DeVos Performance Hall on Friday and Saturday, October 5 and 6, for music inspired by the lore and landscape of Scandinavia.

Tickets start at $18 or $5 students for the second concerts of the 2017-18 Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series.

A graduate with high honors from the Sibelius Academy of Music in Helsinki, Bergmann will lead the Grand Rapids Symphony in Sibelius Symphony No. 2. He'll be joined by Norwegian mezzo soprano Marianne Beate Kielland, a past Grammy nominee, as soloist in Gustav Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer.

Bergmann, who was awarded second prize in the Nordic Conducting Competition in Helsingborg in 2002, will open the concerts with Richard Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersingers, the only comic opera by the composer who immortalized the mythological Norse gods in his Ring of the Nibelung cycle of four music dramas.

“All music tells a story,” Bergmann said the second time he was in Grand Rapids.

“It’s either true or not,” he added with a smile. “It it’s not true, we have to invent one.”

Just two years after his very first appearance in the United States, the Bergmann made his Grand Rapids Symphony in November 2015, conducting Brahms’ Requiem. It left a lasting impression on him.

After his first appearance with the Grand Rapids Symphony, Bergmann said the orchestra’s “potential is enormous.”

“The city is great, and the orchestra plays very well,” he said in November 2015. “This is an orchestra that deserves to be well-known internationally.”

As a candidate for the post of Grand Rapids Symphony music director, Bergmann returned in April 2016 for a special, encore performance at the Jenison Center for the Arts.

Rune Bergmann, who lives near Oslo, grew up in Norway in the small, furniture-making city of Sykkylven along the Norwegian Sea in the North Atlantic Ocean, some 335 miles northwest of Norway’s capital city.

The town of fewer than 8,000 people didn’t have an orchestra, nor did Bergmann grow up in a musical family. But at age 8, after watching Carlos Kleiber conduct a New Year’s Eve concert from Vienna on television, Bergmann was inspired to make music and conducting his life’s work.

“The music spoke straight to me, and the way he communicated with the orchestra was unbelievable,” Bergmann recalled. “At that moment I told my parents that this is what I am going to do with my life."

“My parents thought I was crazy,” he recalled with a smile.

But Bergmann took up trumpet, piano and viola and began spending his pocket change on classical music recordings instead of candy. First, he attended Sweden’s Royal College of Music choir and orchestra conducting.

“You couldn’t study conducting in Norway,” he explained.

He set his sights next on Finland’s prestigious Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, which typically receives some 400 applications for each available spot. Bergmann was the one and only student admitted his year.

“I was lucky to get the best of everything,” he said.

Bergmann’s career includes appearances with orchestras and opera houses throughout Europe including the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and Norwegian National Opera as well as the Mainfranken Theater in Wurzburg, German.

He formerly held the post of deputy Kapellmeister General with the Augsburger Philharmoniker and Theater Augsburg in Germany.

Today, he’s Music Director of Canada’s Calgary Philharmonic as well as Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of Poland’s Szczecin Philharmonic.

Classic rock, not classical music, first brought Bergmann to the United States four years ago.

Guitarist Steve Miller – whose hits include “Abracadabra” and “Fly Like and Eagle,” had a hand in one of Bergmann's earliest appearances in the United States in Corona, California.

Bergmann orchestrated a 35-minute production dubbed “The Steve Miller Rock Symphony” featuring the Steve Miller Band performing five of the band’s top songs along with Bergmann conducting the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Artistic Director of Norway’s innovative Fjord Cadenza Festival since its inception in 2010, Bergmann leads the summer festival of jazz and fine arts as well as classical music.

The festival is unusual in another way.  It’s entirely privately funded “in an American-style way,” he said.

Bergmann said he appreciates the buy-in that comes with private support for arts and culture in the United States.

“I that feel people care,’ he said. “When you’re involved, you care.”

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Wednesday, October 4, 2017 | 0 comments

Recap: Harry Potter and the Grand Rapids Pops thrill audience for second time with ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’

By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk -

Fans of Harry Potter films all have their favorite scenes.

Harry’s first visit to Diagon Alley, his first defeat of Lord Voldemort, conjuring his first Patronus Charm, rescuing his godfather, Sirius Black, winning the Tri-Wizard Cup, finally defeating the Dark Lord – it goes on and on and on.

Harry Potter, fighting the dreaded basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets, is among the most scary and exhilarating scenes in the entire canon of Harry Potter films.

The thrills are nothing without John Williams’ epic musical score. And the scene is everything with the Grand Rapids Pops performing it.

Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry, Ron and Hermione returned to Grand Rapids for the second performance of the Harry Potter Film Concert Series on Friday, September 29.

The Grand Rapids Symphony with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets repeats on Saturday, September 30, with two shows at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets remain available, especially for the evening performance.

Australian conductor Nicholas Buc, who was in DeVos Hall in January with the Grand Rapids Symphony for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, returned to lead the Grand Rapids Symphony in the film in which Harry Potter discovers a mysterious diary is the key to defeating Lord Voldemort and rescuing Ginny Weasley from certain death.

Grand Rapids Symphony's 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone'

Buc is not only an accomplished conductor, he’s a showman who knows how to rev an audience up.

“This is no ordinary movie screening,” he told the audience at the start. “We want to you to laugh and cheer your heroes and boo and hiss the villains.”

Some of the loudest cheers of the evening were for the first appearance of Dobby the House Elf and for Fawkes the Phoenix, arriving in the Chamber of Secrets to save the day.

“And we highly encourage displays of house pride,” he added, a reference to the four houses of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin.

Friday’s audience came prepared to do just that, many dressed in the colors and trappings of Hogwarts as depicted in the movie.

The Harry Potter films are a tale of magic and its use to defeat evil. A tale of magic needs magical music, and John Williams’ epic score is full of wonder and delight.

Moments such as the beginning of the journey into the Enchanted Forrest are potent. But so is the wonder of an ordinary car soaring over the skies of London or the drama and whimsy of students wresting with a pack of Cornish pixies escaped from its cage

Music has a powerful effect on the drama. Live music even more so. A scene as ordinary as a Professor McGonagall telling her class the story of the Chamber of Secrets might be an ordinary lecture, but the ominous music beneath gives the audience chills as she tells it.

The Grand Rapids Symphony gave a magnificent performance that was authentic to the original production but also revelatory in subtle ways. In a concert hall, you hear things in new and different ways.

The fast-paced action of a game of Quidditch, a little like basketball played on broomsticks, becomes even more exciting when accompanied by 80 musicians powering the action, and even more frightening when the game suddenly becomes a life-and-death struggle when our hero comes under attack by a bewitched bludger.

Our heroes’ surprising escape from hundreds of giant spiders as well the dramatic death of Tom Riddle in the Chamber of Secrets were experiences that can take your breath away.

It’s also a heroic effort all by itself to play through. Though the film, based on the second book by J.K. Rowling, is the shortest of the seven books in the series, it’s the longest of the eight films. Including intermission, the entire show was just shy of three hours.

To be sure, the dialogue, of course, is present (and closed-caption as well). So are all the sound effects. In fact, the extra subwoofers that kick in for the mighty thuds of a Whomping Willow, the rumble of moving staircases in motion, or the opening of the Chamber of Secrets are amazing all on their own.

But nothing beats the grand and glorious sound of a full-size symphony orchestra, full of musicians playing their hearts out. You can’t experience that at home or in the movie theater. You can with the Grand Rapids Symphony in DeVos Performance Hall.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Saturday, September 30, 2017 | 1 comments

Grand Rapids Pops presents 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,' Sept. 29-30

Pottermania returns to Grand Rapids.

Last season, when the Grand Rapids Pops brought the Harry Potter Film Concert series to town, the Grand Rapids Symphony sold out three performances in DeVos Performance Hall.

Find out what all the fuss is about this weekend when the Grand Rapids Symphony presents Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on Friday and Saturday, September 29-30.

Cars fly, trees fight back, and monsters are on the loose in Harry’s second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Relive the magical adventure of Harry Potter’s second year at school all over again. Experience the wonder of talking spiders, scolding letters, and giant snakes as never before.

The Harry Potter Film Concert Series, created by CineConcert in conjunction with Warner Bros. and the Wizarding World of J.K. Rowling, presents the original film in high-definition on a 40-foot screen while John Williams’ unforgettable musical score is played live.

Last season’s debut drew more than 7,000 to the Grand Rapids Pops’ performance of  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in January.

Grand Rapids Symphony's 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone'

The Sorcerer’ Stone was absolutely phenomenal,” said Jessica Kirchen Lyons, on the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Facebook page. “Thank you for such a memorable experience”

“I was in tears most of the performance,” added Linda Stouf  on Facebook. “Our GRS is absolutely terrific! The talent is so deep!”

CineConcerts founder and conductor Justin Freer, who has appeared previously in DeVos Hall with the Grand Rapids Symphony, said all eight Harry Potter films eventually will be presented together with live musical performances.

“I think that John Williams is one of the great geniuses of all music, not just film,” Freer said in an interview on last year. “He’s a monolithic giant in our craft, in our art-form, and he’s given us such memorable melodies. Between J.K. [Rowling’s] creations and John’s creations, what a wonderful marriage.”

Guest conductor Nicholas Buc, who was in DeVos Performance Hall for the debut of the Harry Potter Film Concert Series last season, returns for the second installment in the series.

Join Harry, Ron and Hermione as they encounter harrowing pixies, giant snakes and a mysterious diary in this concert event. Immerse yourself in the magic as you watch a house elf make trouble, giant talking spider, a mysterious diary and much more set to the music you know and love.

Tickets, starting at $18, are available but going fast for three shows at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday with a matinee at 2 p.m. Saturday. Call (616) 454-9451 or go online to

The lobby of DeVos Performance Hall will be decorated in trappings of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Guests can take photos with a Sorting Hat or sample Butterbeer, which will be sold in alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions. Free wands will be handed out to the first 400 at each show. Members of the Grand Valley State University Quidditch Team will meet and greet Harry Potter fans.

Grand Rapids Symphony was among the first orchestras in the world to present Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone after the series debuted in June 2016.

It since has become a worldwide phenomenon. One week from now, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets will be screened in the Sydney Opera House in Australia. The following week, the second installment in the Harry Potter Concert Series will be presented in Toronto, San Antonio, Boise and Jacksonville.

Later in October, audiences will be enjoying live performances in Innsbruck, Austria; Barcelona, Spain; and in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia.

Fans of Harry Potter and the Grand Rapids Symphony last January said they couldn’t wait for the next installment.

“So much better with live music than in the theater,” said Jennifer Arnold on Facebook last season. “I heard musical parts I never heard when I watched the movie in the theater.”

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Wednesday, September 27, 2017 | 0 comments

Recap: Grand Rapids Pops' tribute to Fleetwood Mac is as authentic as it is entertaining

By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk -

Fleetwood Mac still is with us.

One of the top pop/rock acts of the 1970s and 1980s, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in near 20 years ago, the British-American rock group hasn’t faded away.

The group that celebrated its 50th anniversary this summer still tours from time to time. Just this past week, drummer Mick Fleetwood published his third book about the group he co-founded. Its title, “Love that Burns – A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac: Volume 1,” all but guarantees a second volume will be forthcoming.

But even when the group does retire, its music is unlikely to disappear. Not while tribute bands such as Landslide are around.

Grand Rapids Pops welcomed the Los Angeles-based group to town to open the 2017-18 Fox Motors Pops with a musical salute to one of the best-selling rock bands of all time on Friday, Sept. 22, in DeVos Performance Hall.

The Tribute to the Music of Fleetwood Mac repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets, starting at $18 adults, $5 students, still are available.

Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt capably led Landslide and the Grand Rapids Symphony through an evening of 15 of Fleetwood Mac’s greatest hits with all the trappings of a rock concert from lights and sound to an enthusiastic audience. The show was as authentic as it was entertaining.

The only thing wrong was it was over too soon. The audience, which was on its feet by the final numbers of the night, would have happily stayed for a few more numbers.

Kicking off the evening with a hot version of “Go Your Own Way,” Landslide’s six musicians recreated the classic lineup of Fleetwood Mac of the 1970s and 80s with remarkable accuracy. Songs such as “You Make Lovin’ Fun” were fun for everyone.

Singers Jennifer Jo Oberle and Alisha Zalkin faithfully filled in for Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie, teaming up for a powerful one-two punch on rock anthems such as “Edge of Seventeen.”

Oberle’s voice is less gravelly than Nicks, which is a good thing, because it’s easier on the ear. But she sang “Rhiannon” with as much energy as the original by Nicks, and her version of “Landslide” was an emotionally searing performance affecting singer and audience alike.

Zalkin, who has a bit more power in her voice than McVie, was pert and bouncy with “Everywhere,” a little introspective on “Say You Love Me,” and she shared a killer duet with guitarist Dan Kalisher on “Hold Me.”

Steve Fekete, though playing bass, also served as Buckingham’s voice, contributing a smooth version of “Don’t Stop.”

Ensemble songs such as “The Chain” and “Tusk,” with nearly everyone singing, were big crowd pleasers.

Back in the day, Fleetwood Mac rarely recorded with additional instruments. But they did plenty of overlays of themselves, and that’s where the Grand Rapids Symphony came in, supplying the additional guitar licks, multiple keyboards and added percussion that you heard on the original recordings.

Oberle’s carefully constructed orchestrations picked out little snippets of melody and harmony layered inside song. Thanks to the Grand Rapids Symphony providing the additional content, songs such as “Little Lies” sparkled with added value.

The end result was a show that sounded more like the original recordings than even Fleetwood Mac itself could accomplish in a live show. That’s worth hearing anytime.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Saturday, September 23, 2017 | 1 comments

Grand Rapids Pops celebrates 50th anniversary of Fleetwood Mac with tribute show, Sept. 22-24

Fleetwood Mac’s drummer, Mick Fleetwood, who gave his name to the band and who is one of its two remaining founders, became a member of the group for reasons having nothing to do with music.

What’s more, Fleetwood only found out recently.

One of the top pop/rock acts of the 1970s and 1980s, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, Fleetwood Mac remains among the best-selling rock bands of all time.

Grand Rapids Pops salutes the iconic group with “A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac” to open the Fox Motors Pops series this weekend.

Shows are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 22-23, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24, in DeVos Performance Hall. Tickets start at $18 adults or $5 students.

Fleetwood Mac, founded in 1967 in London, celebrated its 50th anniversary this past summer. The English blues-rock band’s greatest era of success begin in 1975 with the addition to the lineup of guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and singer Stevie Nicks, both Americans.

The new pop-flavored sound led immediately to Fleetwood Mac’s biggest single, Rhiannon on its eponymous 10th album titled Fleetwood Mac.

Mick Fleetwood, who has written three books about the group, was one of its three founders. The others include electric bass player John McVie, whose name also contributed to the name of the band, and blues-rock guitarist Peter Green, who originally was the group’s main singer, guitarist and songwriter.

It was Green who recruited Fleetwood to the group first dubbed John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. But Fleetwood only recently learned why Green recruited him for the group renamed Fleetwood Mac.

“Well, you were so sad,” Fleetwood recalled Green saying in an interview published in Salon magazine this month.

“You were so sad, and you had broken up with Jenny and you were brokenhearted, and I thought you needed to do something.  And that's what made my mind up.”

“He said, ‘I thought you needed it. You needed to pull yourself together,’” Fleetwood told Salon. “And I thought that was such a loving statement. It had nothing to do with playing. He did it as a friend to pull me out of being, you know, blue.”

That story is reflected in the title of Fleetwood’s latest book, “Love that Burns – A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac: Volume 1, 1967-1974,” a limited-edition book published on Sept. 19.

“And the irony of the title is, if you jump forward thirty years, the whole legacy of this strange band, is all interwoven with love, really, and dysfunctional versions of it as well,” Fleetwood said.

The band’s biggest album, the 1977 release, Rumors, was all about the internal strife in the group. Just one year after Fleetwood Mac rebooted and rebranded itself, the lives of all five musicians were in turmoil. McVie and his wife, Christine McVie, the band’s keyboardist since 1970s, were ending their marriage of eight years. Buckingham and Nicks, who were romantically involved when they joined the band, were having an on-and-off relationship with frequent fights. Mick Fleetwood faced domestic difficulties of his own after learning his wife and the mother of their two children had had an affair with his best friend.

Despite their personal troubles, Fleetwood Mac entered the recording studio to write such songs as Go Your Own Way, Dreams, Don’t Stop and You Make Loving Fun. Released in February 1977, Rumors would spend 31 weeks on top of the pop charts and win the 1978 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

Grand Rapids Symphony Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt leads “A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac” featuring Landslide, a sextet of Los Angeles-based musicians, who took their name from one of Fleetwood Mac’s biggest hit songs.

It’s the fourth classic pop/rock tribute show Bernhardt has led with the Grand Rapids Symphony in the past year. The others were salutes to the music of the Beatles in April in DeVos Hall followed by tributes to the music of ABBA and to Chicago in July for the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops.

“In the past 20 years, the cover band playing ‘the music of’ has become incredibly popular,” Bernhardt said. “That’s largely because so many of the bands still have their significant followings, and there is significant nostalgia for the music and the era.”

The presence of a symphony orchestra isn’t simply an add-on.

“Some bands actually either used an orchestra in the background of their songs or conceived their songs orchestrally,” Bernhardt said. “In particular, when the strings are well crafted behind a ballad or a thoughtful song, the emotional content of the song can be underpinned.”

Such examples include the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” as well as several of the Fab Four’s songs produced by Phil Spector, such as “The Long and Winding Road.”

“The quality of the show depends upon two items - the musicianship of the band itself, and how much they invested in orchestral arrangements,” Bernhardt said.

Today, Fleetwood Mac continues to tour and perform periodically.

“We've done, as a band, a lot,” Fleetwood told Salon. “And the main thing is, [we] survived the original idea that those four original members of Fleetwood Mac had, which was a really simple desire just to play music that we really loved to play.”

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Thursday, September 21, 2017 | 0 comments

GR Symphony will play epic fanfares from Harry Potter, Game of Thrones to open ArtPrize 2017

ArtPrize is an epic event in Grand Rapids, and such an event needs epic music to match.

Naturally, there’s only one place in Grand Rapids to turn for music at its grandest.

The Grand Rapids Symphony will participate in the opening of ArtPrize 2017, performing music including Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and John Williams’ Hymn to the Fallen from Saving Private Ryan.

ArtPrize Nine opens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, and the Grand Rapids Symphony will be part of opening ceremonies held in Rosa Parks Circle downtown.

Grand Rapids Symphony musicians will perform music including the Heroic Fanfare by Paul Murtha, written to honor the first responders on 9/11, from 7:30 to 8 p.m.

Associate Conductor John Varineau leads musicians of the Grand Rapids Symphony in music from the TV series Game of Thrones, and from the Harry Potter movies. Later in September, Grand Rapids Symphony will present the full-length film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, in three performances featuring live music on Sept. 29-30 in DeVos Performance Hall. Next February, the orchestra will screen the entire film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on Feb. 9-10 with the film shown on a 40-foot HD screen, accompanied by the Grand Rapids Symphony playing John Williams' memorable musical score.

ArtPrize, which debuted in September 2009 as the world’s largest art prize, is an annual art exhibition that turns downtown Grand Rapids into a city-wide, indoor-outdoor art gallery.

Opening Wednesday, September 20, more than 1,500 works of art will be on display at some 175 museums, parks, pubs, stores, churches, offices through October 8.

ArtPrize also is a competition offering more than $500,000 in prize money, including a $200,000 prize awarded entirely by a public vote and another $200,000 prize determined by a jury of art experts.

Grand Rapids Symphony has participated many times in ArtPrize. Last year, groups of Grand Rapids Symphony musicians performed outdoors for the Blue Bridge Festival on the bridge spanning the Grand River downtown. The Grand Rapids Symphony gave free performances of new and cutting-edge music at Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts during ArtPrize Eight.

In 2015, Grand Rapids symphony presented Mathias Alten Triptych, a three-movement work by three composers, including GRS musicians Jeremy Crosmer and Alexander Miller, each inspired by three different paintings by Impressionist painter Mathias Alten, who flourished in the early decades of the 1900s in Grand Rapids. The piece was an official competition entry in ArtPrize Seven.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Tuesday, September 19, 2017 | 0 comments

Recap: Marcelo Lehninger era opens triumphantly with world premiere, world-class artist, wonderful music

By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk -

The opening of the Marcelo Lehninger era began with a semi-standing ovation.

When the maestro strode out on stage for his first season-opening concert with the Grand Rapids Symphony on Friday, the audience erupted with enthusiastic applause in DeVos Performance Hall.

The only thing that stopped it from becoming a full standing ovation was the Brazilian-born conductor himself, eager to greet the audience and get on with what he was hired to do – make music.

The Grand Rapids Symphony’s first season created by Lehninger opened with a world premiere, a world-famous soloist, and a perennial audience favorite. It also happened to be a program with two major works featuring important saxophone soloists – possibly a first for the Grand Rapids Symphony – though more likely a happy coincidence for fans of the instrument.

On the other hand, the premiere of Jeremy Crosmer’s “Ozark Traveler,” the appearance of violinist Sarah Chang, and the performance or Ravel’s Bolero all was by design to begin the Grand Rapids Symphony’s 2017-18 season with a splash. The program in the Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series repeats at 8 p.m. on Saturday, September 16. A pre-concert conversation, “Inside the Music,” begins at 7 p.m.

GR Symphony's Ravel's Bolero plus Sarah Chang

The Grand Rapids Symphony’s 88th season opener was dubbed “Ravel’s ‘Bolero’” for the final piece on the program. But the special guest star of the evening was violinist Sarah Chang.

One of the most important violin soloists of the era, who made her debut with the New York Philharmonic at age 8, Chang can play anywhere, anytime. But she happens to be a personal friend of Lehninger’s, which proved to be a lucky break for West Michigan.

Last time she was with the Grand Rapids Symphony, in November 2005, she performed the Sibelius Violin Concerto. This time, nearly 12 years later, she came with her own commissioned arrangement of Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” for violin and orchestra.

The fun for the soloist violinist is, she gets to be Tony and Maria, and all the rest of the Sharks and the Jets. The fun for the audience is hearing so many familiar melodies distilled into one 18-minute package, arranged by Hollywood film composer David Newman, especially for Chang.

The Korean-American is a brilliant artist who’s polished and pulled together in more ways than one. Her fingers dance across the strings as she plays, and Chang dances around the stage as well, filling a large amount of space with her small frame, pouring out a tremendous amount of music from within.

Chang’s intensity is clearly evident, though it’s easy to miss due to the ease with which she plays. Much-loved melodies such as “Somewhere” were achingly beautiful in her capable hands. The orchestra contributed enthusiasm with the fiery “Mambo” and spirited “Tonight.” The furious coda was a satisfying meeting of minds between soloist, conductor and orchestra.

Seeing and hearing Chang play is a rare treat that, perhaps, won’t be as rare in the future.

The season-opening concert, which celebrated American music on the first half, opened with the traditional playing of the National Anthem followed by even more Americana.

The pantheon of great American composers of concert music includes Charles Ives, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. Our own Jeremy Crosmer throws his hat into the ring as one of their successors, cleverly, by paying homage to all three.

A native of Arkansas, Crosmer composed “Ozark Traveler: A Celebration of Americana,” a cinematic soundscape that evokes the Ozark Mountain range near his childhood home. It’s Crosmer’s third piece for the full Grand Rapids Symphony and his fourth composition for the organization.

Crosmer’s love of the Ozark’s is evident in the picturesque way he portrays the landscape as real place, with raindrops falling on the flora and fauna and sounds echoing off the distant hillsides. Often you can close your eyes and feel assured that you’re seeing what he’s seeing.

His admiration for his colleagues in the Grand Rapids Symphony is evident as well. Most every principal player and every section gets a chance to shine in just 10 minutes of music. The audience offered its admiration in turn with a standing ovation.

The second half of the night was all about orchestral color. In fact, if you removed color and a crescendo from Ravel’s Bolero, there’s almost nothing left.

With principal percussionist Bill Vits supplying the all-important pulse on snare, Lehninger skillfully led a performance of minimal intervention but with just enough nuance to keep the well-known piece fresh. Meanwhile, nearly all of the principal players in the orchestra, one by one, happily announced their return from summer vacation by rolling up their sleeves and returning to work with enthusiasm and determination.

Last season, for his debut as music director, Lehninger conducted Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2. For his first season-opening concert, Lehninger returned to Rachmaninoff’s opus and the Russian-born composer’s final work.

Though Rachmaninoff was something of a throwback to the 19th century, he was as a masterful orchestrator. Lehninger became the lion tamer, wielding his baton to draw a robust sound from the full orchestra, to coax a delicate interplay of melodies out of five woodwind voices – the usual four plus saxophone

Notable solos included Concertmaster and violinist James Crawford in the second movement. The passion and pose of the finale, somber and sentimental, yet uplifting as well, offered the promise of good things yet to come with Lehninger on the podium.

Rachmaninoff’ Symphonic Dances, with a few quotes from his earlier output, including his disastrous Symphony No. 1, in some respects sums up his life’s work. When he completed the piece, he wrote at the end, “I thank Thee, Lord.”

No doubt, many in the audience were feeling the same with the dawn of the Lehninger era with the Grand Rapids Symphony.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Saturday, September 16, 2017 | 3 comments
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