Grand Rapids Symphony extends Bob Bernhardt’s contract as Principal Pops Conductor

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

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Dec. 15, 2017 – Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt, who has delighted Grand Rapids Symphony audiences with his irrepressible wit and enthusiasm for music of all kinds, will continue to entertain audiences in West Michigan for years to come.

The Grand Rapids Symphony has renewed Bernhardt’s contract for three years through the 2020-2021 season. Now in his third full season at the helm of the Grand Rapids Pops, he’ll lead the Grand Rapids Symphony in five performances of its Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops in DeVos Performance Hall, Dec. 14-17.

“I’m both delighted and gratified to be continuing with the wonderful Grand Rapids Symphony. It took exactly no seconds to make my decision about re-signing,” Bernhardt said. “From the start, I’ve had a terrific time with the orchestra, and a warm and supportive relationship with both the board and staff.”

“At the core of my decision, however, is the excellence of the Grand Rapids Symphony itself, its ability to play music of any genre at the highest level, as well as their positive and welcoming attitude ever since I arrived,” he added.

As Principal Pops Conductor, Bernhardt is the artistic leader responsible for the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Fox Motors Pops, Gerber SymphonicBoom, and D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops series. His chair is underwritten by Beatrice A. Idema.

During the past three seasons, he’s led the Grand Rapids Pops in shows featuring vocalist Lalah Hathaway and with Classical Mystery Tour’s 50th Anniversary Celebration of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album.

In February, he’ll be back on the podium for a salute to the music of Ella Fitzgerald for the Grand Rapids Symphony’s annual “Symphony with Soul” show. Next summer, he’ll make his fourth annual appearance at the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops.

Bernhardt was appointed Principal Pops Conductor in January 2015, the orchestra’s first since the retirement in 2007 of Richard Hayman, who continued to serve as Pops Conductor Laureate until his death in 2014.

“Bob Bernhardt already has won a place in the hearts of our audience, whether indoors in DeVos Performance Hall or outdoors at Cannonsburg Ski Area,” said GRS President and CEO Peter Perez. “He’s entertaining and engaging, and he puts on a great show.”

“Bob has worked with some of the best artists and entertainers from Ben Folds to Renee Fleming. Thanks to his connections, we expect you’ll soon see some exciting shows on the Grand Rapids Symphony  stage,” Perez said.  “We couldn’t be happier that Bob will be on the podium with the Grand Rapids Pops for years to come.”

A regular guest conductor of the Boston Pops for 24 years since his first engagement in 1992 at the invitation of its former conductor, film composer John Williams, Bernhardt first appeared with the Grand Rapids Pops in September 2013 with a “Boston Pops Tribute Show.” He’ll be back on the podium for “Star Wars and More: The Music of John Williams” in May 2018.

Though the next three seasons are still in the planning stages, Bob is expected to conduct four of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s six concerts in its Fox Motors Pops series next season and at least one program on its Gerber SymphonicBoom series.

He’ll also conduct each summer at the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops.

A veteran conductor of classical music and opera, Bernhardt currently is in his 37th consecutive season with the Louisville Orchestra and in his 21st season there as Principal Pops Conductor. He’s also in his seventh season as Music Director Emeritus and Principal Pops Conductor of the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera, where he previously was Music Director for 19 seasons.

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 Houston Symphony, the Seattle Symphony, the Pacific Symphony, the St. Louis Symphony, and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, where he’s served for 11 seasons as conductor of Edmonton’s “Symphony Under the Sky Festival.”

A native of Rochester, New York, Bernhardt earned his bachelor’s degree 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 earned his master’s degree with honors from the University of Southern California’s School of Music.

“We have a lot to look forward to at the GRS,” Bernhardt said. “I’m deeply grateful to the Grand Rapids Symphony for its continuing confidence in my work, and I look forward greatly to the future.”

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 was held in March 2017 and returns in 2019.

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

| Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | Flickr |

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.