Bob Bernhardt Named New Principal Pops Conductor

Media Contact:
Samara Napolitan
Grand Rapids Symphony
616.454.9451 x 4

Grand Rapids Symphony and Grand Rapids Pops audiences will experience an exciting new leader of the orchestra’s popular programming next season. Bob Bernhardt has been named as the new Principal Pops Conductor.

With more than 30 years of experience as a conductor of popular and classical music, Bernhardt will bring his unique perspective, dynamic musical abilities, and engaging personality to West Michigan. Bernhardt will be an integral part of the orchestra’s Fox Motors Pops, Nestlé Gerber SymphonicBoom and D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops series. Bernhardt first conducted the Grand Rapids Symphony in September 2013, leading the “Boston Pops Tribute Show.”

Bernhardt has worked with leading orchestras across the country. These performances have included frequent guest appearances at the Boston Pops where he made his debut in 1992 at the invitation of John Williams. Bernhardt is also the Principal Pops Conductor of the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera and the Louisville Orchestra.

In addition to conducting numerous concerts each season, Bernhardt will be instrumental in planning and shaping the orchestra’s popular programming. He will work closely with leadership of the Symphony, including Associate Conductor John Varineau. Varineau will continue to lead a wide variety of the orchestra’s performances each year, including both classical and popular programs along with performances of the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony.

Bob Bernhardt succeeds Richard Hayman as Principal Pops Conductor of the Grand Rapids Symphony. Hayman was the Principal Pops Conductor of the Grand Rapids Symphony from 1985 until 2007, and served as Pops Conductor Laureate until his passing last year.

As part of the search process, the Symphony’s Principal Pops Conductor Selection Committee was formed to assess candidates and make a recommendation to the organization’s Board of Directors. The Selection Committee included Grand Rapids Symphony musicians, current and past board members, and other community leaders.

“Bob Bernhardt is a fantastic Pops conductor who is also adept at classical and opera,” says Bill Vits, Grand Rapids Symphony principal percussionist and Selection Committee member. “He has great understanding of popular repertoire while being a regular guy who loves baseball. The musicians look forward to playing a wide range of programs with plenty of John Williams and exciting collaborations with new guest artists.”

“The appointment of our new Principal Pops Conductor will help the Grand Rapids Symphony and its exceptional musicians enrich our community through both classical and popular programming,” said Peter Kjome, President and CEO. “Bob Bernhardt is a dynamic leader who will help us grow our audience through innovation and artistic excellence.”

“Our programs inspired by popular culture will help our orchestra to serve our increasingly diverse community, and attract audience members of all ages,” said Board Chairperson Peter Perez. “We appreciate the unanimous recommendation of the Selection Committee following a national search.”

Bob Bernhardt shared his excitement. "I am delighted and honored to join the Grand Rapids Symphony family, and to work with this wonderful orchestra. I look forward to getting to know our audience better, and to joining the great team of musicians, board members, staff and volunteers who make the GRS the remarkable organization that it is. I know that we'll make great music together and have fun, and I hope to build upon the marvelous foundation already in place."

Bob Bernhardt will return to the stage of DeVos Performance Hall to conduct the Fox Motors Pops Series concert, “The Best of Broadway,” on March 13-15.

About the Grand Rapids Symphony

The Grand Rapids Symphony was organized in 1930 and is nationally recognized for the quality of its concerts and educational programs. Led by Music Director David Lockington, ten concert series are presented, featuring a wide range of music and performance styles. More than 400 performances are presented each year, touching the lives of some 170,000. Nearly half of those who benefit are students, senior citizens and people with disabilities reached through extensive education and community service programs. The Symphony’s Affiliated Organizations include the Grand Rapids Bach Festival, Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, Grand Rapids Youth Symphony and Classical Orchestra, and Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Choruses. The Symphony also provides the orchestra for Opera Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Ballet Company. To learn more about the Grand Rapids Symphony please visit

This activity is supported in part by an award from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts.