Experience love in myriad forms in “Debussy’s ‘La Mer’,” Feb. 19 & 20

Media Contact:
Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk
Grand Rapids Symphony
616.454.9451 x 139

Love in myriad forms is the undercurrent for the Grand Rapids Symphony’s “Debussy’s ‘La Mer’,” at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 19-20 in DeVos Performance Hall.   

French composer Claude Debussy maintained a lifelong passion for “The Sea.” The never-married Johannes Brahms’ prized his personal freedom even as he composed one of the most ravishing melodies of his career in his Symphony No. 3. American composer Peter Lieberson cherished his wife, mezzo soprano Lorraine Hunt, who sang the debut of his “Neruda Songs” shortly before her death in 2006 from complications from cancer.   

The concerts in the Richard and Helen DeVos Classical Series welcome Venezuelan conductor Carlos Izcaray, the sixth guest conductor of the 2015-16 season to DeVos Performance Hall. Izcaray, music director of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra and one of eight candidates to become the next music director of the Grand Rapids Symphony, leads the orchestra in Debussy’s evocative symphonic sketch plus Brahms’ Symphony No. 3.   

Guest mezzo soprano Katherine Pracht will join Izcaray and your Grand Rapids Symphony as vocalist for the performance of Lieberson’s “Nerudu Songs,” set to the poetry of Pablo Neruda. Guest artist support for Pracht’s appearance is provided by the Edith I. Blodgett Guest Artist Fund.   

Debussy, who as a child dreamed of becoming a sailor, had a life-long passion for the sea. To listen to “La Mer” is to experience with your ears what it’s like for your eyes to look upon an Impressionist painting. The three-movement work, with subtitles including “Play of the Waves,” doesn’t tell a story. Rather, the French composer paints tonal colors, focusing your attention here and there for a sonic experience of the wind and waves. 

The Nine Inch Nails song, “La Mer,” is inspired by Debussy’s 23-minute work. Some say that the third movement of “La Mer” also appears to have inspired John Williams in his score for the 1975 film “Jaws.”   

A leading Viennese critic dubbed Brahms’ First Symphony as “Beethoven’s 10th,” anointing the German composer as Beethoven’s successor. When Brahms’ Third Symphony debuted in 1883, critic Hans Richter took it one step further, referring to it as Brahms’ “Eroica” Symphony, a nod to Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony No. 3.

In reality, Brahms set out on a different journey than Beethoven did with his “Heroic” Symphony. Brahms’ Third uses a three-note motive, F-A-F, which some say represents a personal motto of the composer, “Frei aber froh” or “Free but happy.” The symphony begins with a powerful statement of the motive, but it ends with a mere whisper of it. In between is a symphonic journey of melodic directness and harmonic craftsmanship that are a hallmark of Brahms’ music.

The haunting poco allegretto theme in the third movement of Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 has since taken on a life of its own. Frank Sinatra’s “Take My Love,” a song he recorded and co-wrote in 1951, uses it.

The soulful melody appears in the opening credits and in subsequent scenes in the 1946 film noir, “Undercurrent,” starring Katharine Hepburn. The 1961 film “Goodbye Again,” starring Ingrid Bergman, uses it throughout the score as well as in the song, “Say No More, It’s Goodbye,” sung in the film by night club singer Diahann Carroll.  

Lieberson, a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism who died in 2011, was inspired by the love of his life, Lorraine Hunt, a professional opera singer, who the composer recalled had a natural, intuitive ability to embody words and express emotions  on stage.   When Lieberson by chance first came upon a book of love poems by Neruda, he immediately thought of his wife. Each of the five songs in the cycle expresses a different face of love.

“I’m so grateful for Neruda’s beautiful poetry,” Lieberson once said about the work. “For although these poems were written to another, when I set them, I was speaking directly to my own beloved Lorraine.”

Upbeat, a free, pre-concert, multi-media presentation, with guest conductor Carlos Izcaray, will be held before each performance at 7 p.m. in the DeVos Place Recital Hall. Upbeat is sponsored by BDO USA.

“Debussy’s La Mer” will be rebroadcast on Sunday, May 1 at 1 p.m. on Blue Lake Public Radio  88.9 FM or 90.3 FM.  


Tickets start at $18 and are available at the Symphony office, weekdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., 300 Ottawa NW, Suite 100, (located across from the Calder Plaza), or by calling 616.454.9451 x 4. (Phone orders will be charged a $2 per ticket service fee, with a $12 maximum.) Tickets are available at the DeVos Place Box Office, weekdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., or on the day of the concert beginning two hours prior to the performance. Tickets may also be purchased through Ticketmaster, 800.982.2787, online at GRSymphony.org or in person at Ticketmaster outlets: select D&W Fresh Markets, Family Fare Stores and Walmart. Tickets purchased at these locations will include a Ticketmaster service fee. Full-time students of any age are able to purchase tickets for only $5 on the night of the concert by enrolling in the Symphony’s Student Passport program. This is a MySymphony360 eligible concert.

About the Grand Rapids Symphony

The Grand Rapids Symphony was officially organized in 1930 and is nationally recognized for the quality of its concerts and educational programs. Led by Music Advisor Larry Rachleff, Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt and Associate Conductor John Varineau, eight concert series plus special events are presented, featuring a wide range of musical styles. More than 400 performances are presented each year, touching the lives of some 200,000 people. Nearly half of those 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 GRS also provides the orchestra for Opera Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Ballet. 

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.