Grand Rapids Symphony plays music of nature with Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony, March 6-7

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – February 19, 2020 – Heitor Villa-Lobos was widely acknowledged as South America’s greatest composer when he was invited to come to Hollywood and write the musical score for Green Mansions starring Audrey Hepburn and Anthony Perkins.

The 1959 film directed by Mel Ferrer was about a young man living in a remote corner of Venezuela who meets and falls in love with an unusual girl of the Amazon forest.

Villa-Lobos arrived in Hollywood with a completed score, totaling some two hours’ worth of music, only to be told that’s not how movies are made. A composer’s job is to watch the final edit and then to compose music to fit film.

But as Lehninger tells the tale, the Brazilian composer would have none of that.

“That’s not how I work,” Lehninger quoted Villa-Lobos as saying. “You need to make your movie around my music.”

“That was his last Hollywood gig,” Lehninger added with a laugh.

Ferrer turned to Bronislau Kaper to compose the score for the MGM film, but Kaper insisted on incorporating some of Villa-Lobos’ original music.  If you’ve seen the film about love and adventure in the forbidden forests of Amazon, you’ve heard some of Villa-Lobos’ Florestas do Amazonas, which the Grand Rapids Symphony will perform at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday March 6-7.

Marcelo Lehninger will lead Beethoven’s Pastoral, the seventh concert of the 2019-20 Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series DeVos Performance Hall. Warner Norcross + Judd is the Concert Sponsor.

The concerts feature Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony No. 6, which also was subtitled “Recollections of Country Life.”

It’s a concert inspired by nature as well as one that’s near and dear to the Brazilian-born conductor’s heart because Villa-Lobos remains his country’s best-known composer. And also because Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony happens to be one of the first orchestra works that Lehninger ever conducted. In fact, he won second prize with the piece in a conducting competition in Brazil.

“It’s been a good companion,” he said with a smile.

Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, a masterpiece of French impressionism, rounds out the program that’s about nature.

“I really like pairing Villa-Lobos music with French music. Although he’s Brazilian, there are so many French elements in his music.”

Villa-Lobos personally spent time in Paris. But in the middle of the 20th century, a Brazilian didn’t have to travel to France to experience French culture.

“At the time, Rio de Janeiro was the Paris of South America. The culture was very Parisian, and everybody spoke French,” Lehninger said. “The cafes, the night life, the Belle Époque architecture – there was a lot of French culture.”

Puerto Rican soprano Larisa Martínez will be soloist in the exotic work that Villa-Lobos arranged for soprano solo and orchestra. Guest artist sponsor is the Edith I. Blodgett Guest Artist Fund.

A frequent musical partner of Andrea Bocelli, Martinez has toured for the past two years with the famous Italian tenor. She also has collaborated frequently with her husband, violinist Joshua Bell, on projects such as the Emmy-nominated PBS special, Live from Lincoln Center.

The Grand Rapids Symphony’s 2019-20 season coincides with the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven in December, and the orchestra is performing several works this season and next by one of the greatest composers in the history of Classical music.

Later in March, the Grand Rapids Symphony will perform of all five of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos over two nights with pianist Kirill Gerstein, the 2010 winner of the Gilmore Artist Award from the Irving S. Gilmore Keyboard Festival in Kalamazoo.

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

The complete Beethoven’s Pastoral will be rebroadcast on April 26, 2020, at 1 p.m. on Blue Lake Public Radio 88.9 FM or 90.3 FM.


Tickets for Beethoven’s Pastoral start at $18, available by calling the GRS ticket office at (616) 454-9451 ext. 4. Phone orders will be charged a $3 per ticket handling fee ($18 maximum per order). There are no fees for tickets purchased in person at the GRS ticket office at 300 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 100, (located across the street from Calder Plaza). Ticket office hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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 may be purchased online at

Special Offers

Full-time students of any age can purchase tickets for $5 on day of the concert by enrolling in the GRS Student Tickets program, sponsored by Calvin University. Discounts also are available to members of MySymphony360, the Grand Rapids Symphony’s organization for young professionals ages 21-35.

Students age 7-18 also are able to attend for free when accompanied by an adult. Free for Kids tickets must be purchased in advance at the GRS Ticket office. Up to two free tickets are available with the purchase of a regular-price adult ticket. Go online for more details.

Symphony Scorecard provides members up to four free tickets for most Grand Rapids Symphony concerts. Members of the community receiving financial assistance from the State of Michigan and members of the U.S. Armed Forces, whether on active or reserve duty or serving in the National Guard, are eligible. Go online for information on signing up with a Symphony Scorecard Partner Agency.

About the Grand Rapids Symphony

Organized in 1930, the Grand Rapids Symphony is nationally recognized for the quality of its concerts, the breadth of its educational programs, and the innovation of its initiatives to support diversity, equity and inclusion as well as to serve the wider community in non-traditional settings. Led by Music Director Marcelo Lehninger, Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt and Associate Conductor John Varineau, the Grand Rapids Symphony presents nine concert series each year. Its Gateway to Music provides a matrix of 18 unique access and educational programs for adults and children of all ages. Altogether, West Michigan’s largest performing arts organization offers more than 400 performances per year, touching the lives of some 200,000, nearly half of whom are students, senior citizens or people with disabilities. Affiliated organizations include the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony, the Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Chorus, and the biennial Grand Rapids Bach Festival, which returns in April 2021. GRS collaborates annually with Opera Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Ballet and biennially with the Gilmore Keyboard Festival in Kalamazoo.

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.