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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 Pottermore.com 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 GRSymphony.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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
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