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Grand Rapids Symphony horn player Paul Austin elected president of national musical organization

Just four years ago, the musicians of the Grand Rapids Symphony were invited to become part of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, an organization representing musicians of the top 52 orchestras in the United States.

Grand Rapids Symphony’s Paul Austin led the effort that elevated his colleagues in Grand Rapids to the ranks of ensembles including the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, the Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras, and the Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco Symphony Orchestras.

Now, the members of ICSOM have elected Austin, a horn player, to a two-year term as President.

A member of the Grand Rapids Symphony since 1999, Austin said he’s “very humbled and extremely honored” to have been elected at ICSOM’s annual conference held in Buffalo, New York, at the end of August.

“As ICSOM's newest member orchestra, it’s exciting that the Grand Rapids Symphony has been trusted with a top leadership position in the organization,” Austin said. “Along with the many positive things that the GRS has accomplished in the past several years, this is just one more bit of good news to share with our GRS family.”

Paul Austin, who holds degrees from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and Tennessee Tech University, served as the Grand Rapids Symphony’s first ICSOM delegate after the organization representing over 4,000 musicians in symphony orchestras and opera companies admitted the Grand Rapids Symphony to membership in 2013.

“Paul has made great contributions to the ICSOM Governing Board as a Member-at-Large, and I am so pleased that he will be stepping up to this new role, as we work to improve the working life of our musicians and the quality of life of our communities,” said ICSOM Chairperson Meredith Snow, who is a violist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

In ICSOM’s organizational structure, its Chairperson acts as chief executive officer while its President serves as chief operating officer. Recent ICSOM Presidents have been musicians in orchestras including the Kansas City Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic and Utah Symphony.

Austin was Resident Artist at Canada's Banff Centre for the Arts as well as the recipient of a Gilmore Emerging Artist grant from the Kalamazoo Arts Council, allowing him to study in London.

Austin has appeared as soloist in the Richard Strauss Horn Concerto No. 1 with the Holland Symphony Orchestra and has been resident horn player for the Chamber Music Festival of Saugatuck since 2001.

As a teacher, Dr. Austin has served on the horn faculty at colleges in Michigan, Louisiana and Ohio. In 2015 he joined the faculty of Interlochen's Adult Chamber Music Camp. A frequent performer on historical instruments, he is author of "A Modern Valve Horn Player's Guide to the Natural Horn."

Before joining ICSOM, Grand Rapids Symphony musicians were members of the Regional Orchestra Players' Association, which similarly represents the interests of musicians in regional American orchestras. With ROPA, Austin had served on the Executive Board of the Regional Orchestra Players' Association as Vice President and Media Committee Chair.

Founded in 1962, the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians’ mission is to facilitate communication between all members of the greater musical community and to advocate for the arts in America and beyond.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Thursday, September 14, 2017 | 0 comments

Sarah Chang, one of world's greatest violinists, opens Grand Rapids Symphony's 2017-18 season

Violinist Sarah Chang is one of the greatest artists in classical music today.

Winner of an Avery Fisher Career Grant followed by the Avery Fisher Prize in 1999, Chang became the youngest inductee to-date in Hollywood Bowl’s Hall of Fame in 2004. In 2005, Yale University dedicated a chair in Sprague Hall in Sarah Chang’s name. In 2012 Harvard University gave her the Distinguished Leadership in the Arts Award.

The Korean-American musician, who has made 20 recordings for EMI Classics, has served as a U.S. Cultural Ambassador and was a torch bearer in the 2004 Olympic Games.

Chang, who was named to Newsweek magazine’s list of 20 Powerful Women in 2006, has had a major career for more than a quarter century. So it comes as a surprise to learn that the Philadelphia native is only 36 years old.

“She’s been in the spotlight and on the major stages of the world since she was 9 years old,” said Marcelo Lehninger, Grand Rapids Symphony Music Director.

Since her debut with the New York Philharmonic just before her ninth birthday followed by an appearance with the Philadelphia Orchestra soon after, Chang has appeared with nearly every major orchestra and almost every important classical music festival throughout the world.

In 2011, she was St. Cecilia Music Center’s Great Artist, its second youngest Great Artist to date.

Chang returns to Grand Rapids for the first time since then to open the Grand Rapids Symphony’s 2017-18 Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series. Her return to DeVos Hall for the first time in 12 years is largely due to her long relationship with Grand Rapids Symphony Music Director Marcelo Lehninger.

“She’s a wonderful violinist and a great friend of mine,” Lehninger said. “She’s a fun and bubbly and a great personality.”

“And, boy, can she play that instrument!” he added.

Sarah Chang will perform the Suite from West Side Story for Violin and Orchestra, arranged especially for Chang by film composer David Newman from Leonard Bernstein’s well-known Broadway musical.

Lehninger, who was appointed Music Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony in June 2016, will make his first season-opening appearance with the orchestra on Friday and Saturday, September 15-16.

The concert includes Ravel’s Bolero, an all-time audience favorite. Featured prominently in the 1979 film “10” starring Dudley Moore and Bo Derek, the piece that’s focused almost entirely on orchestral color has become Ravel’s most popular work with audiences.

Lehninger also will conduct the Grand Rapids Symphony in Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. Premiered in 1941, it’s Rachmaninoff’s final composition before his death two years later. All three of its movements pay homage to Rachmaninoff’s earlier work, offering a romantic remembrance of the composer’s beloved homeland in Russia, which had been obliterated by the Soviet Union.

The Grand Rapids Symphony opens its 88th season with Ozark Traveler by Michigan composer Jeremy Crosmer. Commissioned by the orchestra, the piece celebrates American classical music of the 20th century by Charles Ives, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. The title takes its cue from Copland’s Appalachian Spring. Crosmer, a native of Little Rock, Arkansas, grew up near the Ozark Mountains.

Crosmer, who served as assistant principal cellist of the Grand Rapids Symphony for five years, this fall takes up a new post in the cello section of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Taken together, Lehninger promises an exciting opening to the Grand Rapids Symphony's new season.

“You can’t ask for more,” he said. “It’s going to be wonderful.”

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Tuesday, September 12, 2017 | 0 comments

Grand Rapids Symphony’s successful Symphony Scorecard adds Grand Rapids Art Museum to innovative program

Symphony Scorecard already changes lives. It’s about to change even more.

One of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s latest initiatives, Symphony Scorecard opens doors to new audiences, particularly those who would like to attend concerts but are unable due to financial constraints.

Now, the Grand Rapids Art Museum is joining the effort to expand access to arts and culture.

Created two years ago by the Grand Rapids Symphony, Symphony Scorecard provides free tickets to concerts to members of the community who receive financial assistance from the State of Michigan as well as to those currently are serving in the U.S. Military.

Since September 2015, Scorecard members have been eligible to receive up to four free tickets for most Grand Rapids Symphony concerts aside from some special events.

Faces of Grand Rapids Symphony's audiences

Not four tickets per season, up to four tickets per available concert.

“It’s not one-time, come to the symphony,” said Dale Hovenkamp, Grand Rapids Symphony Partnership and Collaboration Specialist, who administers the Symphony Scorecard program. “It’s a chance to go to a variety of concerts and to bring your family along with you.”

As Symphony Scorecard enters its third year, Grand Rapids Art Museum is partnering to offer free admission to the art museum to participants.

“The museum is committed to expanding inclusive and accessible opportunities for visitors year-round, and this partnership offers unprecedented access to the visual and performing arts in West Michigan,” said Dale Friis-Hansen, Museum Director and CEO.

Funded by a major gift from the Daniel and Pamella DeVos Foundation, Symphony Scorecard has been a success from its start. Its initial goal was to distribute 400 tickets in its first season. But the response, was so overwhelming that by the end of the 2015-16 concert season, more than 2,000 tickets were provided to residents of Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties.

The following year, another 3,000 tickets were given, and the Grand Rapids Symphony anticipates providing even more during its 2017-18 concert season opening on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 15, in DeVos Performance Hall.

“Grand Rapids Symphony’s Symphony Scorecard gives participants an opportunity to lift their spirts through music while sharing the live experience with others,” said Grand Rapids Symphony President Peter Perez.

For Scorecard participants such as Artie Smith, who attended her first symphony concert in 50 years at age 82, it was a life-changing experience.

Barbara Neumann, a resident of Mount Mercy Apartments in Grand Rapids, says she has attended many Grand Rapids Symphony concerts and has encouraged several friends living in the community for older and disabled adults to join her. She says they almost always have the same reaction.

“We never knew this music was so exciting,” Neumann said.

Myra Lilly-Gillespie, a resident at Ransom Towers in downtown Grand Rapids, was a friend who was invited by another Scorecard member to join. Soon, Lilly-Gillespie brought along a guest of her own.

“My granddaughter, who was 11, just sat on the edge of her seat, amazed,” Lilly-Gillespie recalled.  “That was heartwarming.”

Residents in adult foster care and in group homes are especially enthusiastic about the experience, according to Colene Johnson, Community Resource Coordinator with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which determines eligibility to participate in Symphony Scorecard.

“When they call me and ask for a Scorecard, they’re very excited and can’t wait to get it,” Johnson said.

The Grand Rapids Art Museum’s 2017-18 calendar of exhibitions offers a dynamic lineup of art experiences for Symphony Scorecard participants. Upcoming exhibitions include Andy Warhol’s American Icons; Christian Marclay: Video Quartet; Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle; and Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History from 1843 – Present.

Scorecard members additionally may participate in a wide variety of programing and events at GRAM, including Artist and Curator lectures; Drop-in Studio, Artist Drop-in Tours, and Baby & Me Tours; and Yoga at GRAM, and the Sunday Classical Concert Series.

Though limited resources may be less of an issue for members of the U.S. Armed Forces, a greater concern for servicemen and women is family life when a member is deployed. When a family member is away for months, it’s important that they have support at home. Sharing arts and cultural experiences with others is a comfort in emotionally trying times.

Scorecard offers a helping hand, said Gunnery Sgt. Teodulfo Nunez of the U.S. Marine Corps Recruiting Office in Grand Rapids.

“It shows the respect that the community has towards its service members,” he said. “It’s something all service members should take advantage of.”

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Thursday, September 7, 2017 | 0 comments

Grand Rapids Symphony Friends honored with Gold Book Award of Excellence from League of American Orchestras

Unusual entertainment, unique wares, a bouquet of aromas and a banquet of tastes greeted the neighborhood on the near southwest side of Grand Rapids, thanks to the Grand Rapids Symphony Friends.

The Rumsey Street Bazaar, a three-day bazaar dubbed “Classics Remixed,” drew new fans for the Grand Rapids Symphony in the mostly Hispanic neighborhood of Grand Rapids.

The event held last year in June 2016 was honored this summer by the League of American Orchestras with its Gold Book Award of Excellence.The Volunteer Council of the League of American Orchestras presented the award at the League’s National Conference, which was held in Detroit this past June.

Symphony Friends President Bonnie Monhart attended the conference, gave a power point presentation and participated in a panel discussion on Leveraging Community Resources.

“We felt the project was a huge success in achieving community engagement,” Monhart said “We engaged a variety of people as well as connecting with 30 community partners to create a unique venture.”

Getting ready for Rumsey Street Bazaar

The annual Gold Book competition recognizes outstanding projects created and implemented by volunteer associations of symphony orchestras throughout the United States and Canada such as Grand Rapids Symphony Friends.  Projects are judged by the League’s Volunteer Council, an organization of recognized community leaders throughout the United States and Canada who have demonstrated outstanding support for their symphony orchestras.

The Volunteer Council’s awards honor volunteers who, through hard work and dedication, help ensure the success of their organizations.

During the 2017  League of American Orchestras conference, Grand Rapids Symphony violinist Diane McElfish Helle also was honored with the prestigious Ford Musician Award for Excellence in Community Service for her work in launching the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Music for Health Initiative.

The Rumsey Street Bazaar was a multi-faceted event launched to foster an appreciation of classical music in a diverse neighborhood as well as to raise funds for the Grand Rapids Symphony. 

The eclectic group of community partners included New York designer Bradley Callahan of BCalla Designs, who has designed for such entertainers as Lady Gaga and who dressed Miley Cyrus and 31 drag queens the 2015 Video Music Awards.

More than 50 members of Symphony Friends plus another 50 volunteers,  fashion design students from Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University, and 23 musicians from the Grand Rapids Symphony participated.

The setting was a collection of buildings in the neighborhood of Rumsey Street and Grandville Avenue SW, now owned by Habitat for Humanity. During ArtPrize 2015 in Grand Rapids, the buildings were used by SiTE:LAB, an award-winning arts organization that creates site-specific art installations.

The innovative bazaar featured a fashion show of “wearable art” together with a wide range of musical performances, a silent auction, ethnic food, arts and crafts and moderately priced resale items in buildings that included a deconsecrated historic Catholic church and an abandoned auto-body shop.

Symphony Friends, formerly known as the Grand Rapids Symphony Women’s Committee, celebrated its 75th anniversary of service to the Grand Rapids Symphony in 2016.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Wednesday, August 23, 2017 | 1 comments

Interning at the Grand Rapids Symphony's Picnic Pops: Tablecloths, tunes and good times

By Emma DeWitt - Grand Rapids Symphony intern -

Approaching the end of my junior year at Calvin College, I still did not have an internship under my belt, and I was starting to feel apprehensive going into the summer. I had just switched to the strategic communication program the previous year and was unsure of what I could do with such a broad major.

Having a deep love and appreciation for music, I felt blessed to accept a public relations internship with the Grand Rapids Symphony for the summer of 2017.

Throughout this internship, I learned about public relations, marketing tactics, effective writing techniques, and successful production set-up. I was given the opportunity to sit in on a few meetings with the marketing team, an in-office interview with Marcelo Lehninger, and a television interview with a few of our guest artists. These opportunities gave me a diverse experience with the Symphony and allowed me to participate outside of my cubicle.

GR Symphony 2017 Picnic Pops Volunteers, Interns The summer season at the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops series began in July with the Music of ABBA on July 13-14, followed by the Music of Chicago on July 20-21, and my personal favorite, Women Rock, on July 27-28. The summer series ended with the Classical Fireworks on Aug. 3 followed by Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán on Aug. 5, bringing in diverse crowds who were enthusiastic about the Grand Rapids Symphony’s performances at Cannonsburg.

With the Picnic Pops concerts, I was told that the summer internship was unique and my work would be much different than it would, had I worked during the fall or spring concert series. This was no lie – I think I did more manual labor than I anticipated.

Although many concert days were long, tiring, and sweaty – Michigan summers are too hot for my liking, I found myself not minding the work at all because of the wonderful staff, fellow interns, and eager volunteers at my side. There was no lack of laughter and engaging conversation to help pass the time as we placed what felt like a couple thousand rolls of table cloths on the tables in front of the stage, among other tasks.

The people involved, myself included, were genuinely happy to be contributing to putting together a wonderful experience for guests at the Picnic Pops. I truly enjoyed the work we put into bringing these concerts together, and I am thankful for what I learned. I know the knowledge and experience I gained will follow me in future endeavors I may have post-graduation.

at Tuesday, August 15, 2017 | 0 comments

Recap: Grand Rapids Symphony's 2017 Picnic Pops ends with power and passion of exciting Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan

By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk -

Music truly is the universal language.

At the Grand Rapids Symphony’s final concert of the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops, not a word was sung in English, and it didn’t matter.

The audience at Cannonsburg Ski Area, a great many of them first-time guests at the Picnic Pops, went wild for Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán and the Grand Rapids Symphony.

The famed Mexican folk ensemble joined the Grand Rapids Pops on Saturday, Aug. 5 for a special event to close the 2017 D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops. It was muy especial indeed.

In my 23 years of experience with the Picnic Pops, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more adoring and expressive audience than the throngs who were singing “El Viajero,” or “The Traveler,” hands on their hearts, crying “Mexico!” on each repeat of the refrain.

GRS Picnic Pops with Mariachi Vargas

Such enthusiasm hardly slowed over the next two-and-a-half hours, including a brief intermission, under guest conductor Natanael Espinoza.

It was a lovefest from the fans to the musicians and back again with enthusiastic singing and dancing, and arms, hats and flags waving, glasses clinking, and shouts and cheers all night long.

The special guests were welcomed with a proclamation from Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and the City of Grand Rapids, officially declaring the day to be “Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán Day” in Grand Rapids, and the Consulate General of Mexico in Detroit delivered certificates of achievement to both the group and guest conductor prior to the opening of the concert.

The Grammy Award-winning ensemble is reputed to be “el major mariachi del mundo” or  “the best mariachi in the world.” By night’s end, few would doubt that..

Mariachi Vargas dates back to the 1890 and the city of Tecalitlán in the Pacific coastal state of Jalisco, the region in Mexico that is to mariachi what New Orleans is to jazz. The group appeared with Linda Ronstadt on the Mexican-American singer’s1986 album, Canciones de Mi Padre (Songs of My Father), which won the Grammy for Best Mexican/Mexican-American Album at the 31st Grammys in 1987.

That was of no importance. Nor did it matter that “Cielito Lindo,” or “Lovely Sky,” might have been the only song that some in the audience had ever heard before.

The 14 musicians, most of whom sang powerfully and passionately, included seven violins, three trumpets and assorted Spanish guitars including the tiny vihuela and the big guitarrón. All proved to be masters of their craft.

The sweet sounds of violins on “La Bikina,” and the driving, syncopated rhythms of “El Cascabel” or “The Bell” made for an exciting evening.

The party started early with glasses raised to the music of “Sones de Jalisco” at the outset.

The audience clapped along on “Popurrí Ranchero,” and Mariachi Vargas drew a semi standing ovation mid concert with “Por Amor,” which began with a solo violin and ended with a wall of sound.

Espinoza, artistic director of the Orquesta Filarmónica del Desierto in Coahuila de Zaragoza in northern Mexico, led the Grand Rapids Symphony in a nice, tight performance of Jose Pablo Moncayo’s “Huapango” to open the evening with a jolt.

By the end of the night, both Mariachi Vargas and the Grand Rapids symphony were playing “Que Bonita es mi tierra,” or “How Beautiful is My Land,” strongly and solidly as if they could have stopped and started the show all over again.

No doubt many in the audience would have been happy to stay.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Tuesday, August 8, 2017 | 5 comments

Recap: Music director Marcelo Lehninger works magic with Picnic Pops audience in Classical Fireworks concert

By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk -

When Marcelo Lehninger appeared for the first time with the Grand Rapids Symphony two years ago, the highlight of that concert in February 2015 was a performance of Antonin Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony No. 9.

For Lehninger’s debut at the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops on Saturday, Aug. 3, what better piece to play than the symphony that the Czech composer wrote in the United States and debuted for an American audience?

After all, it worked once, right? Now it’s worked its magic twice.

The Brazilian-born conductor led his Grand Rapids Symphony in a bold, expansive performance of the fourth and final movement of Dvorak’s gift to the American people, turned into a gift for the Picnic Pops audience.

GR Symphony's 2017 Classical Fireworks

Its wall of sound, though performed with great depth of precision, washed over the hills of Cannonsburg Ski Area. The big, climactic conclusion could have triggered fireworks into the evening sky. The pyrotechnics, however, were yet to come.

Grand Rapids Pops’ Classical Fireworks concert, a Picnic Pops tradition going back 23 seasons now is an audience favorite.

“Let’s get this party started,” Lehninger told the audience shortly after a U.S. Marine Color Guard presented the colors to the Grand Rapids Symphony performing the National Anthem.

Three weeks of pop rock and classic rock opened the 2017 D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops. Special guest artists were the stars each night.

For the fourth event of the summer, the Grand Rapids Symphony was ready to let loose and take center stage in the concert that was something of a salute to the music of the America’s. Not just the United States of America, but the whole of the America’s with music from Argentina and Brazil as well as music inspired by the cultures of Mexico and Cuba.

Obvious audience favorites included Morton Gould’s American Salute, a popular set of variations on the theme, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”

Aaron Copland, the dean of American composers during his life, is best known and best loved for his music of the 1930s and 40s that drew upon the American experience in ballets such as Appalachian Spring.

Lehninger led an exuberant performance of the “Hoedown” from Copland’s ballet, Rodeo, drawing a nicely balanced, carefully contrasted sound from the orchestra.

Copland was a first-generation American from New York City, born to Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. But his tastes ranged far from his Manhattan home.  El Salon Mexico, inspired by the sounds and rhythms of that country, has remained one of Copland’s most popular pieces.

It’s broad shouldered as well as playful. Four weeks into the Picnic Pops season, it was wonderful to hear the richness of the Grand Rapids Symphony in all its symphonic splendor.

George Gershwin’s Cuban Overture may be authentic or not. It doesn’t matter because it’s lively and rhythmic. The Grand Rapids Symphony under Lehninger sounded tightly would and easy and breezy at the same time.

The juxtaposition of separate feelings and classing sensations were on even greater display on two tangos by Astor Piazzolla.

Tangos can be joyous and mournful all at once. Emotions bubbled to the top and remained at a rolling boil on a snow tango called “Oblivion.” A steady tattoo of rhythm and color, full of pizazz, spring from a tango titled “Primavera,” featuring notable solos from hornist Erich Peterson, cellist Alicia Eppinga, trumpeter Neil Mueller and oboist Ellen Sherman.

Perhaps the most insightful piece of the program was by the composer least familiar of all – Oscar Lorenzo Fernandez, an early 20th century Brazilian composer. Lehninger led an energetic performance of a movement from Fernandez’ opera, “Malazarte,” titled “Batuque,” a mesmerizing Afro-Brazilian folk dance full of passion, offering a glimpse of what the Brazilian conductor brings to the Grand Rapids Symphony as music director.

Peter Ilych Tchiakovsky’s 1812 Overture needs little introduction and less explanation. It’s music for orchestra plus cannons leading to fireworks, and it was a pyrotechnic display on an epic scale that had the audience murmuring its delight.

Wet weather threatened earlier, but the show went on until the rocket’s red glare gave proof that Cannonsburg was the place to be with the Grand Rapids Symphony on stage.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Friday, August 4, 2017 | 2 comments

Fireworks and mariachi wrap up Grand Rapids Symphony's 2017 Picnic Pops with two one-night only special events

The Grand Rapids Symphony’s D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops, since its debut in 1995, has drawn more than half a million people to Cannonsburg Ski Area.

The summer series’ latest fans include Grand Rapids Symphony Music Director Marcelo Lehninger and his wife and children, who took in a Picnic Pops concert for the first time last month.

“We had a wonderful time,” said Lehninger, who was in the audience for The Musical Legacy of Chicago featuring Brass Transit on Friday, July 21, with Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt on the podium.

This week Lehninger, who recently moved to the Grand Rapids area with his family, will make his podium debut at Cannonsburg Ski Area, 6800 Cannonsburg Rd NE.

Not one but two special events this week cap off the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops.

Classical Fireworks, an audience favorite at the Picnic Pops for more than 22 years, welcomes Music Director Marcelo Lehninger to the podium at Cannonsburg Ski Area for the first time on Thursday, Aug. 3.

Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán joins the Grand Rapids Pops with traditional Mexican folk music on Saturday, Aug. 5 for the final concert of the 2017 D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops.

Lehninger, who was named Grand Rapids Symphony’s Music Director last summer, will lead the Grand Rapids Pops in music by Aaron Copland and George Gershwin as well as in tangos by Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla on Thursday, Aug. 3.

Classical Fireworks begins with Morton Gould’s American Salute, a set of variations on the theme, When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again. It ends with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture followed by a spectacular, grand finale fireworks display, sponsored by Lacks Enterprises.

Tickets in advance for Classical Fireworks start at $19 for adults, $16 for college students and seniors, $5 for ages 2-18, and free for children under age 2 for lawn seats for the concert underwritten by Chemical Bank, Fox Motors, Universal Forest Products and United Bank as Benefactor Sponsors.

Tickets for reserved chairs are $30. Single tickets for general admission chair seating are $30. Single tickets for an individual, reserved table seats are $51 or $408 for an entire table for eight.

Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, dubbed “the best mariachi band in the world,” appeared with Linda Ronstadt on the Mexican-American singer’s1986 album, Canciones de Mi Padre (Songs of My Father), which won the Grammy Award for Best Mexican/Mexican-American Album at the 31st Grammys in 1987.

The Mexican folk music ensemble founded by Gaspar Vargas traces its origin back to the 1890s and the city of Tecalitlán in the Pacific coastal state of Jalisco, the region in Mexico that gave birth to mariachi.

Today, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán is the star attraction of the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza, a seven-day music festival, held in San Antonio, Texas. The 22nd annual festival, held last December, drew more than 1,000 mariachi musicians for three national competitions, community events, and a culminating concert by Mariachi Vargas.

The musical style of Mariachi usually features at least two violins, two trumpets and at least one Spanish guitar. Mariachi Vargas’ 13 singers and musicians include six violins, two trumpets, two harps and one guitar. The group also includes one vihuela, a high-pitched, 5-string, round-backed guitar that plays rhythm; and a 6-string bass guitar known as a guitarrón.

Guest conductor Natanael Espinoza, artistic director of the Orquesta Filarmonica del Desierto or Philharmonic Orchestra of the Desert in Mexico, leads Mariachi Vargas and the Grand Rapids Pops at 8 p.m. Saturday,

Tickets in advance for Mariachi Vargas start at $24 for adults, $22 for college students and seniors, $5 for ages 2-18, and free for children under age 2 for lawn seats for the concerts underwritten by Steenstra’s as Benefactor Sponsor, Macatawa Bank as Patron Sponsor, and GR Outdoors as Series Partner. All tickets are $5 more on the day of the show.

Single tickets for general admission chair seats are $34. Single tickets for an individual, reserved table seats are $51 or $408 for an entire table for eight.

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

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

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.

Gates at Cannonsburg Ski Area open at 5:45 p.m. each night for picnicking and pre-concert entertainment, including free, kid-friendly activities such as face painting, crafts, and a musical instrument petting zoo.

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.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Tuesday, August 1, 2017 | 0 comments

Recap: Grand Rapids Symphony rocks D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops with amazing 'Women Rock' show

By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk -

Nostalgia can be a powerful thing.

A hint of a smell or a few musical notes can take us back to a time and place we once knew, as if we’re there once more.

But when singer Katrina Rose Dideriksen, singing “Piece of My Heart, belts “come on” four times in a row, there’s no thought that you’ve suddenly slipped back into the past.

Damned if that isn’t Janis Joplin herself, singing right in front of you.

That was only the beginning of the Grand Rapids Pops’ Women Rock. Boy, do they.

'Women Rock' at GR Symphony Picnic Pops

Three stars of stage, screen and the studio joined the Grand Rapids Symphony under guest conductor Robert Thompson for an electrifying show on Thursday, July 27, for the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops with songs of Carole King, Tina Turner, Pat Benatar, Heart and more.

Women Rock repeats at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Cannonsburg Ski Area. Lawn tickets on the day of the show are $24 for adults, $21 for college students and seniors, or $10 for ages 2-18. Children younger than age 2 are admitted for free.

Call the Grand Rapids Symphony at (616) 454-9451 ext. 4 during business hours or (616) 885-1241 evenings or go online to

Dideriksen along with Cassidy Catanzaro and Shayna Steele, three seasoned professionals who know how to work a crowd, treated the audience to nearly two hours of music by the leading ladies of rock and roll, all wrapped up in tasty arrangements by Jeff Tyzik that made ample use of the Grand Rapids Symphony.

Smiles of recognition swept the audience for the opening bars of songs such as the main theme from “Flashdance.”

Carole King’s “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman,” featuring Dideriksen, Catanzaro and Steele all sharing the stage, became a playful competition, each interpreting a verse in their own way. The audience, clearly, was the winner.

By the end of the night, the special guests and the Grand Rapids Pops had the audience on its feet, rocking out to “Proud Mary,” with all the fire and brimstone of the well-known, version made famous by Tina Turner and the Ike and Tina Turner Revue.

Shayna Steele, a powerhouse of a singer, who has appeared on Broadway in Rent, in Jesus Christ Superstar, and in NBC's production of Hairspray Live, turned nearly every song she sang was a show stopper.

With “Dancing in the Street,” not surprisingly, she snuck in a mention of “Grand Rapids, Michigan.” She sang “Freeway” with all the same soulful exuberance of a young Aretha Franklin as well as “What’s Love Got to do with it?” with the wisdom and worldliness of a mature Tina Turner.

“Authentic” is the best word to describe Cassidy Catanzaro singing songs of Carole King. The former lead singer for the all-woman rock group Antigone Rising strutted her stuff with “I Feel The Earth Move.” But on songs such as “Far Away,” Catanzaro sang with an intimacy that nonetheless projected far out into the audience.

Katrina Rose Dideriksen, who starred on Broadway in A Night with Janis Joplin, had the wickedly accurate scream of Janis Joplin down pat, but also the steely sweetness of Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart singing “These Dreams,” and the “I’m all-that attitude” of Pat Benatar ripping through “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.”

Conductor Robert Thompson, who years ago taught at Hope College and ocassionally subbed with the Grand Rapids Symphony in the late 1980s and early 1990s, clearly was having fun leading the orchestra he once played in.

There were a few surprises in the show. Catanzaro, a 2017 Grammy Award-nominated singer and songwriter, was featured on “Up on the Roof.” The Drifters made it famous, but it was Carole King’s song, and Catanzaro’s interpretation was poignant with tight orchestral accompaniment. Steele went against type to deliver Minnie Riperton’s “Loving You” with gentleness and warmth.

I never thought I’d hear “Love Is a Battlefield” as a ballad. But that’s how songwriter Holly Knight first envisioned it when she wrote it. The 2013 Songwriter's Hall of Fame inductee collaborated on the production of Women Rock, and Dideriksen put the pedal to the metal on volume but not on tempo for this surprising and revealing interpretation.

Women Rock, a brand-new show that only debuted in June, pays homage to some of the biggest stars and best-known female singers of the past 50 years including Martha Reeves and Joan Jett, reminding listeners just how much of an impact women have had on the history of rock music.

“We can cook you a meal. Make a baby. And we can get up and sing and pay the bills,” Steele told the audience.  “And we can treat your good.”

Yes, they did.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Friday, July 28, 2017 | 0 comments

Grand Rapids Pops salutes Janis, Aretha, Tina, Carole and more with 'Women Rock' at D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops

When Rolling Stone magazine first published its list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” women were few and far between.

Of the top 50 albums on this list first published in 2003, only four, including Carole King’s “Tapestry,” at No. 36, were by women either as solo artists or as part of groups.

Yet female artists have played a major role as recording artists in the history of pop/rock music.

The Grand Rapids Symphony’s D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops showcases many of the first ladies of music in a show titled Women Rock, featuring the music of Carole King and many others.

The salute to the songs written or recorded by Tina Turner, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin and more will be at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, July 27-28, at Cannonsburg Ski Area, 6800 Cannonsburg Road NE.

Lawn tickets to Women Rock are $19 for adults, $16 for college students and seniors, or $5 for ages 2-18. Children younger than age 2 are admitted for free. All tickets are $5 more on the day of the show.

Call the Grand Rapids Symphony’s at (616) 454-9451 ext. 4 during business hours or (616) 885-1241 evenings or go online to

Two-time Grammy nominated producer, conductor and musician Robert Thompson -- who taught at Hope College and performed with the Grand Rapids Symphony in the late 1980s and early 1990s -- guest conducts the Grand Rapids Pops’ third concert of the 23rd annual Picnic Pops series.

In fact, Women Rock is a brand new show that just debuted in June, arranged by Grammy Award-winning arranger and conductor Jeff Tyzik, featuring songs such as Carole King’s You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman, Aretha Franklin’s Freeway and Janis Joplin’s Piece of My Heart.

Many songs were composed by women, including Carole King, but also Holly Knight, who wrote Love is a Battlefield for Pat Benatar and The Best, recorded by Tina Turner. Both are part of the show.

"There's this great legacy of female songwriter who put the 'rock' in 'rock and roll,"  said Thompson, who collaborated personally with both King and Knight while developing the show.

Women Rock pays homage to some of the biggest stars and best-known female singers of the past 50 years including Martha Reeves, Joan Jett and Heart, singing iconic songs including Dancing in the Street, I Love Rock and Roll and These Dreams.

“Right now, in the climate that we’re in, it’s a very big moment for women,” said Jami Greenberg, producer of Women Rock. “I think a lot of people feel that around the country and around the world. But this is not a political show. It’s about harnessing the power that women have.”

Three of Broadway’s brightest stars – Cassidy Catanzaro, Katrina Rose Dideriksen and Shayna Steele – sing 17 of the songs that changed the course of rock music.

Check out a sampler of Women Rock on YouTube.

Two songs in the show, Love is a Battlefield recorded by Pat Benatar, and The Best, recorded by Tina Turner, were written by Holly Knight, a 2013 inductee into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and one of the most successful songwriters of the past 40 years.

Cassidy Catanzaro, featuring in several songs by Carole King, is a 2017 Grammy Award nominated singer and songwriter. The former lead singer and songwriter of the all-female rock band Antigone Rising, she has sold nearly 2 million albums and toured the U.S. following a record deal with both Starbuck’s Hear and Atlantic Records. She released her third solo album,What is REAL, in April 2016 and toured with legendary acts such as The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith.

Katrina Rose Dideriksen, who starred in A Night with Janis Joplin on Broadway, serving as understudy for the lead, also has appeared as Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray. In regional and touring productions, she has starred as Mimi in Rent, as Rizzo in Grease, and in Legally Blonde.

Shayna Steele, who recently starred in NBC-TV’s Hairspray Live! has appeared on Broadway in Rent and in Jesus Christ Superstar. In 2014, she was a featured performer at multiple festivals with Grammy-winner Snarky Puppy. She worked as a sideman for a wide range of artists including Bette Midler, Lizz Wright, Natasha Bedingfield, Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton. She is a vocalist with the Grammy-nominated Broadway Inspirational Voices.

Gates at Cannonsburg Ski Area for the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops open at 5:45 p.m. each night for picnicking and pre-concert entertainment, including free, kid-friendly activities such as face painting, crafts, and a musical instrument petting zoo.

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. VIP Parking upgrades will be available for a small fee beginning in June. .

Capping off the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops in August are two one-night only, special events, both at 8 p.m. Join the Grand Rapids Pops for the audience favorite Classical Fireworks show on Aug. 3 with Music Director Marcelo Lehninger making his debut at Cannonsburg

The 2017 D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops concludes with mariachi music direct from Mexico. Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán , which toured and recorded with Linda Ronstadt in the 1980s, tops off the summer on Aug. 5.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at Thursday, July 27, 2017 | 0 comments
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