Grand Rapids Symphony concert goers came to DeVos Performance Hall on Friday for an evening of music by Wagner and Stravinsky. But along with the music came the unexpected surprise announcement that Music Director Marcelo Lehninger will remain on the podium with the orchestra for years to come.
The Grand Rapids Symphony has extended Lehninger’s contract with the orchestra for another five years through the 2025-26 season.
Appointed Music Director in June 2016, Lehninger’s original 5-year contract was due to expire at the end of the 2020-21 season. But with the addition of another five years, the Brazilian-born conductor is on the road to becoming the third-longest serving Music Director in the Grand Rapids Symphony’s 90-year history.
The announcement came at the start of the second half of the program titled Tristan & Isolde. But before continuing with Wagner’s Overture to Tannhäuser and Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, Lehninger told the audience “it’s an incredible joy” to make music with the musicians of the Grand Rapids Symphony.
“Not only are they great musicians, but they’re great people, and that feeling of family on stage is very special,” he said. “We enjoy what we’re doing here, and I hope we can send you the message that we love playing for you.”
Marcelo Lehninger told the audience how much he appreciates the community’s support of the Grand Rapids Symphony.
“What is really touching is the support the community has for the orchestra,” he said. “It tells you a lot about a community that wants to have a high level, wonderful orchestra.”
The concert featuring the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus singing Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26. Tickets are available from the DeVos Hall box office and Ticketmaster outlets.
Lehninger, who served five years on the conducting staff of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and who has guest conducted the symphony orchestras of Chicago, Pittsburgh, Houston and Detroit, has emerged as one of the top American conductors of his generation.
Grand Rapids Symphony is fortunate to have Lehninger on the podium in West Michigan, according to Chuck Frayer, chair of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Board of Directors.
“A great community deserves a great orchestra, and a great orchestra needs the capable and inspiring leadership of a great music director,” Frayer said. “Since Marcelo’s arrival, he’s raised the quality of the orchestra’s music making and elevated the profile of the Grand Rapids Symphony in the world of classical music. We couldn’t be more pleased with what he’s accomplished, and we’re looking for more to come.”
Lehninger, who led the Grand Rapids Symphony and Symphony Chorus in a critically acclaimed appearance in New York City’s Carnegie Hall in April 2018, said he’s thrilled to continue making music in Grand Rapids.
“I am deeply humbled by the confidence shown me and for the past three years it has been an honor to work with the wonderful musicians of the orchestra, administration, board, donors and volunteers of this cherished cultural institution,” said Lehninger, whose chair as Music Director is underwritten by George H. and Barbara A. Gordon. “The Grand Rapids Symphony has a big impact on the vibrant cultural life of our city, and it’s been extremely inspiring for me to see the community support and involvement that shows the city wants to have a high-level orchestra.”
Now in his fourth season with the orchestra, Lehninger has brought such internationally acclaimed artists as pianists Nelson Freire, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Olga Kern and Gabriela Montero to Grand Rapids for their debut performances. He’s also brought such world-class musicians as violinist Sarah Chang and mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung back to DeVos Performance Hall for the first time in many years.
Last year, Lehninger conducted the Grand Rapids Symphony in performances of Gustav Holst’s The Planets along with Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony No. 41, which sold out 2,400-seat DeVos Performance Hall. This past summer, he led the orchestra in its first appearance in northern Michigan in many years when the Grand Rapids Symphony performed at the Great Lakes Center for the Arts at Bay Harbor in July.
Under Lehninger’s leadership, the Grand Rapids Symphony last year launched a Neighborhood Concert Series with performances throughout the community. In September, Lehninger led the orchestra in its second annual “Symphony on the West Side” in John Ball Park for the series underwritten by the Wege Foundation.
Lehninger has led performances of music ranging from Richard Strauss’ epic tone poem Ein Heldenleben and Gustav Mahler’s sunny Symphony No. 3 to Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s sultry Scheherazade, and Maurice Ravel’s mesmerizing Bolero. But he also has premiered new music by composers with direct ties to West Michigan including Alexander Miller and Jeremy Crosmer.
“Marcelo is a magnificent musician who is grounded in the great works of classical music that our audiences know and love. But he’s also an innovator, determined to expand the repertoire, to perform in unexpected ways and places, and to create inclusive experiences for new audiences,” said GRS President and CEO Mary Tuuk, who earlier served as co-chair of the 14-member search committee who recommended Lehninger’s appointment as Music Director. “I’m elated to continue working with Marcelo and our Symphony constituencies as we chart the course of the Symphony’s future with further artistic excellence, vibrancy and accessibility.”
Grand Rapids Symphony’s musicians are looking forward to many more years of making music with Lehninger, said Principal Harpist Elizabeth Wooster Colpean, who serves as chairperson of the GRS Orchestra Committee.
“The musicians of the Grand Rapids Symphony are thrilled that Marcelo will continue to serve as Music Director,” said Colpean, who is in her 20th anniversary season with the orchestra. “He has an extraordinary gift of breathing life into each note we play, resulting in a beautiful picture created entirely out of music.”
“It’s magical!” she added. “We’re fortunate to have him here in West Michigan.”
As part of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s 90th anniversary season in 2019-20, Lehninger will conduct the orchestra in all five of Beethoven’s Concertos for Piano and Orchestra over two consecutive nights in March 2020. Pianist Kirill Gerstein, winner of the 2010 Gilmore Artist Award given by the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival in Kalamazoo, will be soloist for all five.
Also later this season, the Grand Rapids Symphony will launch a new series, The Pianists, featuring Argentinean pianist Ingrid Fliter, the winner of the 2006 Gilmore Artist Award, as part of the 2020 Gilmore Keyboard Festival.
“When planning the 90th season, we decided that, although this anniversary is a wonderful reason to celebrate, from now on, each year will be a stepping stone to our centennial celebration in the 2029-30 season,” Lehninger said. “Another five years will give us time to implement some of the projects and ideas I’ve been cultivating with our team. The future holds some innovative and novel plans for the orchestra, and I am truly excited to be a part of this vision.”
Winner of the prestigious Helen M. Thompson Award for an Emerging Music Director by the League of American Orchestras in 2014, Lehninger made his Grand Rapids Symphony debut in February 2015 with an electrifying performance of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony No. 9. Following an explosive performance of Respighi’s “Pines of Rome” in April 2016, Lehninger was the unanimous choice to become the orchestra’s 14th Music Director since the ensemble was organized in 1930.
Lehninger lives in Grand Rapids with his wife, Laura Krech, a Research Scientist at the Trauma Research Institute at Spectrum Health, and their daughters, Sofia and Camila.
“The community has been extremely welcoming to my family, and we’re very happy here,” he added. “Grand Rapids is a wonderful place to live, work and raise children.”