Grand Rapids Symphony celebrates winter with Jean Sibelius' Symphony No. 5

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Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk
Senior Manager of Communications and Media Relations
616.454.9451 ext. 139

GRAND RAPIDS, MI., Dec. 28, 2016 – At the heights of their careers, the world’s great poets, painters, playwrights and performers often become cultural heroes in the native lands.

Finnish composer Jean Sibelius just may top them all.

In 1915, the government of Finland commissioned its favorite son to compose a new symphony for orchestra. But the commission wasn’t in honor of crowning a new monarch or in remembrance of an important historical event.

The new work was commissioned to honor the composer himself, and Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5 was premiered on the very date of the composer’s 50th birthday on Dec. 8.

To this day, the Finns remember the birthday of the composer celebrated for portraying the Finnish landscape and expressing the character of its people in his music.

Grand Rapids Symphony performs Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5 for the fifth concerts of the 2016-17 Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series concerts on Friday and Saturday, January 13-14, 2017, in DeVos Performance Hall. Guest conductor Teddy Abrams, music director of the Louisville Orchestra, will lead the program titled Sibelius Symphony No. 5 with music by four composers all written within a 40-year period from 1915 to 1955.

A former assistant conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra from 2012-2014, Abrams conducts the Grand Rapids Symphony in three important works by composers who each loomed large over their country’s cultural milieu. In addition to Sibelius in Finland, the three include Sergei Prokofiev in the former Soviet Union, and Aaron Copland in the Unites States.

Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5, arguably the Finnish composer’s most popular work, is a brief, three-movement work lasting just over 30 minutes. But it captures the essence of the Finnish countryside in winter.

Guest violinist Benjamin Beilman, who performs this season at the Dvorak Festival in Prague, in London’s Wigmore Hall and goes on a 10-city tour of Australia, joins the Grand Rapids Symphony to play Prokofiev’s youthful Concerto No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, written against the backdrop of the looming Russian Revolution.

A winner of an Avery Fisher Career Grant and First Prize in the Young Concert Artists international Auditions in 2010, Beilman has performed with orchestras including the London Philharmonic, Frankfort Radio Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony and the Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal,

Many great composers of the 20th century tried their hand at composing film music. Not all succeeded. Aaron Copland’s score for the 1940 film Our Town, an adaptation of the celebrated play by Thornton Wilder, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Score, and the film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture. Copland later adapted the film score for concert use.

The concerts open with Samuel Barber’s Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance, a seven-movement concert suite drawn from the American composer’s 1955 ballet, Medea.

Abrams, Music Director and Conductor of the Britt Classical Festival, also serves as Resident Conductor of the MAV Symphony Orchestra in Budapest, which he first conducted in 2011. As a pianist, he has soloed with the Philadelphia Orchestra and performed and conducted simultaneously the Ravel Piano Concerto with the Jacksonville Symphony.

An advocate for the power of music, Abrams, a clarinetist and a composer, fosters interdisciplinary collaboration with organizations including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Speed Art Museum, and the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Guest artist sponsor is the Edith I. Blodgett Guest Artist Fund.

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

  • The Grand Rapids Symphony this season has introduced a special cocktail for its audiences in DeVos Performance Hall. At every concert in the 2016-17 Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series, try a “Spirit of the Symphony,” also called a French 75.

  • The complete Sibelius Symphony No. 5 program will be rebroadcast on April 16, 2017, 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 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 DeVos Place box office, weekdays 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. or on the day of the concert beginning two hours 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. This is a MySymphony360 eligible concert.

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.