Grand Rapids Symphony unveils 2018-19 season with something special for everyone

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

GRAND RAPIDS, MI, Feb. 1, 2018 – The mission of the Grand Rapids Symphony is to share great music with its community.

Forging deeper connections through the power of music to promote diversity, encourage equity and nurture inclusivity all play an important role in the orchestra’s 89th season.

Today, the Grand Rapids Symphony unveils its 2018-19 concert season with classical favorites, classic pop/rock music, family friendly entertainment, and cinematic special events including live music with blockbuster movies.

“Each program, there’s something special,” said Marcelo Lehninger, who begins his third season as Music Director in September.

World-class stars include pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, who recently appeared with the New York Philharmonic, coming to Grand Rapids in October for a concert that also features Rimsky-Korsakov’s popular Scheherazade.

“You can’t miss that concert. If you do, you miss one of our leading pianists of today,” Marcelo Lehninger said about Thibaudet, who performs with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in April and with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra next season as well.

Great orchestra works such as Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony No. 8, Elgar’s Enigma Variations, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 will be a part of the Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series.           

American pianist George Li will join the orchestra with one of the most popular piano concertos of all time, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Pianist Van Cliburn’s 1958 recording of that concerto for RCA was the first classical recording in history to sell more than 1 million copies.

“Like Beethoven’s 9th, Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto is a piece we need to do every few years,” said Lehninger who became Grand Rapids Symphony Music Director in June 2016. “It’s an audience favorite.”

Sometimes, the stars align to bring a major star to DeVos Performance Hall for a major work. In April, three-time Grammy Award winner Michelle DeYoung joins the Grand Rapids Symphony for Mahler’s Symphony No. 3.

“She’s one of the leading mezzo-sopranos of today,” Lehninger said. “And she’s from Grand Rapids.”

Join the Grand Rapids Pops for pop/rock music by Sir Paul McCartney in September, for ragtime, blues and jazz featuring a return visit by trumpeter Byron Stripling in January 2019, and for well-known music from films from the Star Trek and James Bond franchises in a show titled Sci-Fi and Superheroes in May 2019, all led by Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt.

Season subscriptions go on sale today for all subscription concerts in the Grand Rapids Symphony’s fall, winter and spring seasons. The lineup for the 2018 D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops will be unveiled in mid-March.

The Grand Rapids Symphony’s 89th season opens with violinist Karen Gomyo performing Samuel Barber’s Concerto for Violin for concerts in September including Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, featured prominently in the climactic scene in the 2010 film The King’s Speech during which King George VI overcomes his speech impediment to announce on radio that the United Kingdom was at war with Nazi Germany.

“It’s such a wonderful way to start a season, not only with Beethoven, but with that Beethoven Symphony,” Lehninger said.

The season ends in May 2019 with a “Mother’s Day with the Maestro” program featuring Lehninger’s mother, pianist Sônia Goulart, as soloist with Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

Guest Conductor Carl St. Clair of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra leads an all-Leonard Bernstein concert in November including Bernstein’s Overture to Candide and his Symphony No. 2 subtitled The Age of Anxiety.

Marcelo Lehninger, who conducts eight of the 10 programs in the Classical Series, welcomes cellist Andrei Ioniță, Gold Medalist in the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition, for an all-Tchaikovsky concert including the Russian composer’s Variations on a Rococo Theme.  

Blockbuster films play a big role in the 2018-19 season for both the Fox Motors Pops and Gerber SymphonicBoom series with Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas in October, with Home Alone starring Macaulay Culkin in December, and with Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl in March, all led by Associate Conductor John Varineau.

Bob Bernhardt returns in December for the Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops featuring the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus and Youth Chorus.

The six-concert Fox Motors Pops Series opens in September with The Music of Sir Paul McCartney starring singer and jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli, who has collaborated with McCartney and was personally invited by Sir Paul to perform and record McCartney’s post-Beatles songbook. It continues in November with songs made famous by Frank Sinatra starring pianist and singer Tony DeSare.

Along with movie magic, the Gerber SymphonicBoom Series welcomes Cirque de la Symphonie back to town. The company of acrobats, jugglers, contortionists and aerial artists return to DeVos Hall for the 10th annual Old National Bank Cirque de Noël.

The Grand Rapids Symphony’s Great Eras Series and Porter Hills Coffee Classics celebrate music of the Baroque, Classical and Romantic Eras plus music of the 20th and 21st Centuries in four concerts held in St. Cecilia Music Center.

Trombonist Ava Ordman, principal trombone of the Grand Rapids Symphony for 24 seasons, returns in May 2019 as soloist for a new concerto for trombone and orchestra on a concert celebrating the music of female composers. The four-concert series opens in October with principal oboist Ellen Sherman as soloist in a concert devoted to music of the Baroque and music inspired by J.S. Bach.

The 10-concert Classical Series also features violinist and Grand Rapids Symphony Concertmaster James Crawford as soloist in William Walton’s Concerto for Violin in March 2019 with Music Director Laureate David Lockington returning for an evening of British music.

Spanish guitarist Pablo Sáinz Villegas will be soloist in Joaquin Rodrigo’s popular Concierto de Aranjuez for a concert of Latin-American music by Astor Piazzolla and Alberto Ginastera featuring members of Grand Rapids Ballet.

Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, directed by Pearl Shangkuan, joins the orchestra for Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor in November.

Besides the Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops in early December, the Christmas season will see the return of The Snowman, a screening of the classic holiday animated special with Howard Blake’s musical score played live for the Grand Rapids Symphony’s DTE Energy Foundation Family Series.    

The biennial Grand Rapids Bach Festival, founded in 1997 by the late Linn Maxwell Keller, will return in mid-March 2019 with a week’s worth of concerts celebrating the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporaries.


Season tickets are on sale now with select concerts also on sale to subscribers. Subscriptions are available at a discount of up to 50 percent off select series and seats for new package orders. Current subscribers have until February 28 to renew their subscriptions. Single tickets will be available beginning July 31.

Tickets 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 $4 per ticket service fee, with a $12 maximum.)

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

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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.