Music Director Marcelo Lehninger debuts in St. Cecilia Music Center with music of Schumann & Brahms

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Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk
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GRAND RAPIDS, MI., Dec. 21, 2016 – The common denominator between composers Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms wasn’t their mutual profession or even their shared musical instrument, the piano. It was Clara Schumann.

The former Clara Wieck, who married Robert Schumann, went against his father’s wishes to marry Schumann, nine years older than her, and a former pupil of Clara’s father, Friedrich Wieck. Though their marriage was happy and produced eight children, Schumann, who struggled with melancholic depression and admitted himself into a mental asylum, died 16 years after their marriage.

As a young adult, Johannes Brahms lived with the Schumanns. Following Robert Schumann’s death in 1856, Brahms, who never married, remained devoted to Clara, 14 years his senior. Clara Schumann would go on to become one of the most heralded virtuoso pianists of the last half of the 19th century.

Both composers wrote for Clara Schumann, who died in 1896 at age 76, 40 years after her husband’s death. Brahms died less than a year after Clara.

Grand Rapids Symphony Music Director Marcelo Lehninger leads the orchestra in music by both Romantic Era composers for The Crowe Horwath Great Eras concert at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 6 in St. Cecilia Music Center.

The program titled The Romantic Concert: Schumann & Brahms includes Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor. It’s the only piano concerto Schumann composed, and Clara gave the premiere performance in 1846 on New Year’s Day.

Guest pianist Daniel Hsu, a 2016 Gilmore Young Artist of Kalamazoo’s Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival, is guest soloist.

Marcelo Lehninger, who became Grand Rapids Symphony’s 14th music director in June 2016, makes his debut with the Grand Rapids Symphony in historic Royce Auditorium.

The Great Eras Series concert also features Brahms’ Tragic Overture and his Variations on a Theme of Haydn. Though Brahms was not a composer of programmatic music, he chose the title “Tragic” for the one-movement work to emphasize its turbulent and tormented character.

Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn is a set of variations but it isn’t a theme by Haydn. Exactly who composed it is a mystery.

Brahms discovered the theme titled “Chorale St. Antoni” in a work for wind ensemble attributed to Joseph Haydn. In the 19th century, publishers often attached the names of famous composers to works by lesser composers in order to sell sheet music.

Though Brahms thought he was giving credit where credit was due, modern research has concluded the piece doesn’t fit Haydn’s musical style. Today, the work sometimes is referred to as St. Anthony Variations.

Portions of the evening program also will be performed at 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 6, for the Porter Hills Coffee Classics series.  Doors open at 9 a.m. for complimentary coffee and pastry prior to the one-hour concert that’s played without intermission.

Both are held in St. Cecilia Music Center’s historic 19th century Royce Auditorium, 24 Ransom Ave. NE.

The complete Romantic Concert: Schumann & Brahms program will be rebroadcast on April 9, 2017, at 1 p.m. on Blue Lake Public Radio 88.9 FM or 90.3 FM.



Tickets start at $26 for the Great Eras series and $16 for Coffee Classics and are available at the GRS ticket office, weekdays 9 am-5 pm at 300 Ottawa Ave. 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 door on the day of the concert prior to the performance. Tickets also may be purchased online at . Full-time students of any age are able to purchase tickets for only $5 on the night of the concert by enrolling in the GRS Student Passport program.


About the Grand Rapids Symphony

Organized in 1930, the Grand Rapids Symphony is nationally recognized for the quality of its concerts and educational programs. Led by Music Director Marcelo Lehninger, Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt and Associate Conductor John Varineau, nine concert series are presented, featuring a wide range of music and performance styles. More than 400 performances are given each year, touching the lives of some 200,000, nearly half of whom are students, senior citizens and people with disabilities all reached through extensive education and community service programs. Affiliated organizations include the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus; Grand Rapids Youth Symphony and Classical Orchestra; and Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Choruses. GRS provides the orchestra for performances by Opera Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Ballet and sponsors the biennial Grand Rapids Bach Festival, which returns in March 2017.

To learn more about the Grand Rapids Symphony, please visit the website or

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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.