click on a name below to learn more
Marcelo Lehninger | Music Director
Marcelo Lehninger, who led the Grand Rapids Symphony’s critically acclaimed return to Carnegie Hall in 2018, is in his fourth season as Music Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony and recently signed a five-year contract renewal that now extends through the 2025-26 season.
Awarded the 2014 Helen M. Thompson Award for an Emerging Music Director by the League of American Orchestras, Lehninger has led the symphony orchestras of Detroit, Chicago, Houston, Seattle, Toronto and Vancouver. Elsewhere he has conducted the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, the Lucerne Symphony, and the Slovenian Philharmonic. As an assistant to Mariss Jansons, he has toured with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
In the past year, Lehninger returned to his native Brazil for concerts with the Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira in Rio de Janeiro, the Orquestra Sinfônica da Universidade de São Paulo, and the Orquestra Filarmônica de Minas Gerais. He traveled to Japan to guest conduct the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo and the Kyushu Symphony Orchestra in Fukuoka. Coming this season, he’ll make his debuts with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, the San Antonio Symphony and the Sarasota Orchestra, and he’ll return for engagements with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and with the Boston Symphony Orchestra where he spent two years as assistant conductor followed by three years as associate conductor.
Appointed Assistant Conductor of the BSO in 2010, the following year, on just three days’ notice, he led the orchestra in performances that included the world premiere of a new violin concerto by Harrison Birtwistle. Weeks later, the Boston Symphony Orchestra repeated the program in New York City’s Carnegie Hall with Lehninger on the podium.
In 2007, Lehninger made a successful debut with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and was invited to conduct the NSO again the following year. During the 2007-08 season, Lehninger served as music advisor of the Youth Orchestra of the Americas, conducting concerts across South America with the ensemble composed of 120 musicians from more than 20 countries with Placido Domingo as artistic advisor.
Selected by Kurt Masur, Lehninger was awarded the first Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Scholarship in 2008, sponsored by the American Friends of the Mendelssohn Foundation. On three separate occasions he served as Maestro Masur’s assistant, with the New York Philharmonic, with the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, and with the Orchestre National de France during its residency in Vienna.
In 2011, he participated in the League of American Orchestra’s Bruno Walter National Conductor Preview. The following year, he was named music director of the New West Symphony Orchestra, serving four years with the Los Angeles-based orchestra.
Before dedicating his career to conducting, Lehninger studied violin and piano. He holds a master's degree from the Conductors Institute at Bard College Conservatory of Music in New York. A dual citizen of Brazil and Germany, Marcelo Lehninger is the son of German violinist Erich Lehninger and Brazilian pianist Sônia Goulart.
Lehninger, his wife, Laura Krech, and their daughters, Sofia and Camila, live near Grand Rapids.
Updated November 2019
Bob Bernhardt | Principal Pops Conductor
Beatrice A. Idema Chair
Bob Bernhardt is in his fifth full season as Principal Pops Conductor of the Grand Rapids Symphony, continuing to bring his easy style, fine musicianship and infectious enthusiasm to a city and orchestra he has come to love.
In the world of pops, Bernhardt has worked with stars of Broadway including Brian Stokes Mitchell and Kelli O’Hara, with pop/rock and country acts including the Beach Boys and Wynonna, and with entertainers who perform music from the Great American Songbook such as Jason Alexander and Ann Hampton Callaway. He’s seldom met a style of music he doesn’t enjoy.
Bernhardt, who first appeared with the Grand Rapids Symphony in September 2013 to lead a “Boston Pops Tribute Show,” has been a regular guest conductor with the Boston Pops since his debut in 1992 at the invitation of then-Boston Pops conductor, John Williams.
Besides the Boston Pops, Bernhardt has been a frequent guest conductor with orchestras including the Baltimore Symphony, the Detroit Symphony, the Cincinnati Pops, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Dallas Symphony, the Florida Orchestra, the Seattle Symphony, the Pacific Symphony, the St. Louis Symphony, and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, where he’s served for 14 seasons as conductor of Edmonton’s “Symphony Under the Sky Festival.”
Bernhardt is in his 39th consecutive season with the Louisville Orchestra and his 24th season as Principal Pops Conductor. He also is in his ninth season as Music Director Emeritus and Principal Pops Conductor of the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera, where he previously was Music Director for 19 seasons. Since 2012, he’s been an Artist-in-Residence at Lee University.
His previous posts include serving as Principal Conductor and Artistic Director of the Rochester Philharmonic, as Music Director and Conductor of the Tucson Symphony, as Music Director and Conductor of the Amarillo Symphony, and as Artistic Director of the Lake Placid Sinfonietta.
A lover of opera, he conducted productions with Kentucky Opera for 18 consecutive seasons as well as for 19 seasons with his own company in Chattanooga, along with many guest conducting engagements with the Nashville Opera.
Bernhardt received his master’s degree with honors from the University of Southern California’s School of Music, studying with Daniel Lewis. He received his bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Union College in Schenectady, New York, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude, and was an Academic All-American Baseball Player.
He lives with his wife, Nora, in Signal Mountain, Tennessee.
Updated December 2019
John Varineau | Associate Conductor
Maggie Coleman Chair
Now in his fourth decade on the podium for the Grand Rapids Symphony, Associate Conductor John Varineau conducts concerts on nearly all of its series including the Fox Motors Pops, the Gerber SymphonicBoom, the DTE Energy Foundation Family, and the PNC Lollipop as well as the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops and a wide variety of educational and outreach concerts throughout the area.
The 2019-20 season marks his 35th anniversary season as a conductor with the Grand Rapids Symphony and his 32nd as conductor of the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony and Classical Orchestra. Additionally, he conducts the Grand Rapids Symphony in performances with the Grand Rapids Ballet including the 2014 world premiere of a new version of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, a production co-designed by Grand Rapids native Chris Van Allsburg, author and illustrator of The Polar Express.
Varineau’s guest conducting appearances have included the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Phoenix Symphony, the San Antonio Symphony, the Lansing Symphony Orchestra, the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, and the Traverse City Symphony Orchestra as well as the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and Oklahoma City Philharmonic. He formerly served as music director of the Holland Symphony Orchestra.
A clarinetist, John Varineau presents solo recitals and plays in the contemporary music group, Ensemble Montage, and the woodwind trio, ma non troppo. For 38 years he taught at the college level at Cornerstone University, Grand Rapids Community College, Aquinas College, and Grand Valley State University. Most recently he was on the faculty at Calvin University where he conducted the college orchestra, taught academic courses and clarinet and also conducted the Calvin Community Symphony. He is now retired from college teaching.
Committed to nurturing the next generation of classical music lovers, Varineau is a frequent visitor to area schools and shares an infectious enthusiasm with students throughout West Michigan.
A native of Laramie, Wyoming, Varineau attended Michigan State University and the University of Wyoming for his clarinet training and earned his master’s degree at Yale School of Music.
He has made three recordings with the Grand Rapids Symphony and three with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. He married his wife, Gwen, in the same year that he joined the Grand Rapids Symphony. They have a daughter, Jade, and a son, Justin.
Updated September 2019
Send an e-mail message to John Varineau
Julian Wachner | Grand Rapids Bach Festival Artistic Director
Studio C | Loeks Family Chair
Julian Wachner, Artistic Director of the Grand Rapids Bach Festival, is a multi-Grammy-nominated conductor, composer and keyboardist who also serves as Director of Music and the Arts at Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City.
Appointed Artistic Director of the Grand Rapids Bach Festival in March 2018, Wachner will lead the 12th biennial festival in March 2019, including the awarding of the inaugural Linn Maxwell Keller Distinguished Bach Musician Award.
Named one of New York City's "10 Imagination-Grabbing, Trailblazing Artists of 2014" by WQXR-FM in the New York metropolitan area, Wachner oversees an annual season of hundreds of events at historic Trinity Church Wall Street in lower Manhattan. His duties include conducting Trinity’s flagship weekly series, Bach-at-One, and leading Compline-by-Candlelight, Trinity’s innovative fully-improvised variation on an ancient monastic ritual. Wachner curates the church’s the long-standing series Concerts-at-One, an eclectic program of weekly concerts that are webcasted in live HD. At Trinity Wall Street, Wachner serves as the Principal Conductor of NOVUS NY, Trinity’s resident contemporary music orchestra, the Trinity Baroque Orchestra, and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street.
His guest conducting credits include engagements with the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Symphonies, San Francisco Opera, Lincoln Center Festival in New York City, Handel & Haydn Society in Boston, and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale in San Francisco. He served as Music Director of the Washington Chorus in Washington, D.C., for nine seasons from 2008 until 2017.
A composer with more than 60 works to his credit, Wachner's extensive outburst of compositional creativity in 2017-18 included Gaudé: An LB Anniversary for Large Orchestra, commissioned by the Colorado Music Festival; TS Variations, commissioned by the Royal College of Canadian Organists; and Psalm 90, composed for The Tallis Scholars, Norwegian Soloists Choir, Netherlands Chamber Choir, and The Choir of Trinity Wall Street for Lincoln Center's White Lights Festival.
His 2017-18 season included Regina Coeli à 8 for the Ora Singer's ORA100 recording project with Harmonia Mundi; Epistle Mass, written in collaboration with librettist Royce Vavrek for Trinity Wall Street's Mass Reimaginings project; and a festival setting of I'll Praise My Maker which was premiered at the opening ceremony of the American Guild of Organists Regional Convention in Richmond, Virginia.
Crowning these works was the world premiere of Wachner's second full-length opera, REV 23, a farcical comedy with an original libretto by Pulitzer-Prize-winner Cerise Lim Jacobs imagining life after Armageddon for White Snake Projects.
Wachner's many recordings are for labels including Chandos, Naxos, Atma Classique, Erato, Cantaloupe Music, Arsis, Dorian, and Musica Omnia. In 2017, Wachner, the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, and NOVUS NY released a recording of Du Yun and Royce Vavrek's Angel's Bone, winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize. Other recent releases include the Grammy-nominated recording of Handel's Israel in Egypt, and the world premiere and Grammy-nominated recording of Julia Wolfe's 2015 Pulitzer prize-winner Anthracite Fields.
Updated March 2019
Pearl Shangkuan | Chorus Director
Pearl Shangkuan, now in her 16th season as chorus director of the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, is a much sought-after guest conductor and clinician across the United States as well as abroad. Active among the national leadership of choral conductors, she has served as president of the Central Division of the American Choral Directors Association.
Recent engagements include conducting international choral festivals in France in 2017 and in England in 2019 in a joint residency with American composer Dan Forrest. Shangkuan has conducted in New York City’s Carnegie Hall and for many prestigious All State Choral Festivals in the United States. She has lectured at many international conferences and served as a judge in several international choral competitions in Europe and Asia.
Director of Choral Activities and professor of music at Calvin University, Shangkuan’s choirs have performed at the national, division, and state conferences of the American Choral Directors Association and have toured Asia, Europe, South America, and South Africa.
A student of the late Joseph Flummerfelt, pre-eminent American choral conductor and former chorus master of the New York Philharmonic, Dr. Shangkuan received her Bachelor of Music degree in church music (summa cum laude) and Master of Music in choral conducting (with distinction) from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. She earned her Doctor of Musical Arts in choral conducting from Rutgers University.
Dr. Shangkuan has a signature choral series with Earthsongs publishing and is the music editor of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship music series, published by GIA. She and her family live in Grand Rapids.
Updated September 2019
Sean & Leah Ivory | Youth Chorus Co-Directors
Jane Gaebe Memorial Chair
Founding director of the Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Chorus and its select treble ensemble, Mandala, Sean Ivory is a choral conductor, pianist and composer living in Grand Rapids.
Since 1992, Mr. Ivory has been the vocal music instructor at Forest Hills Central High School. He has held past positions at St. Cecilia Music Center, the North American Choral Company, and Calvin College and continues as director of the Calvin College Oratorio Society.
Mr. Ivory attended Northwestern University, Calvin College and Michigan State University. His choirs have performed at both state and regional conventions for the American Choral Directors Association, and have toured Ireland, the Netherlands, Finland, Estonia, Ghana and the Czech Republic.
In addition to his activities as a teacher and conductor, Mr. Ivory also works as a pianist and composer. Several of his works, many of which are collaborations with Chicago composer Paul Caldwell, are published by Earthsongs, Alliance Music, Hal Leonard and GIA Music. Mr. Ivory’s solo compositions are published by MusicSpoke, a new online music distributor.
One of Mr. Ivory’s new compositions, The Peace of Wild Things, is featured on Ecstatic Songs, a new recording released in March 2018 on the Blue Griffin label, by mirabai, a professional women’s choral ensemble directed by Dr. Sandra Snow from Michigan State University.
Co-founding directors of the Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Chorus, Sean and Leah Ivory return this season to co-direct the Youth Chorus and its training ensemble, the Junior Chorus.
Since 1992, Sean Ivory has been the vocal music instructor at Forest Hills Central High School. He has held past positions at St. Cecilia Music Center, the North American Choral Company, and at Calvin University. Currently director of the Calvin University Oratorio Society, he becomes director of the Calvin University Alumni Choir in January 2020. Ivory attended Northwestern University, Calvin University and Michigan State University.
Leah Ivory has accompanied choirs for St. Cecilia Music Center, for the North American Choral Company, and at Calvin University, her alma mater. She currently serves as the accompanist for choirs at Grand Rapids Christian High School. A drummer in the West African tradition, certified through the Tam Tam Mandingue Djembe Academy, she works with differently abled children and adults to improve communication and motors skills through drumming.
Choirs led by Sean and Leah Ivory have performed at both state and regional conventions for the American Choral Directors Association, and have toured Ireland, the Netherlands, Finland, Estonia, Ghana, the Czech Republic, Trinidad and Iceland.
Updated October 2019