Grand Rapids Symphony has been invited by Festival of the Arts to serve as honorary co-chairs for next year’s community-wide celebration of arts and culture in Grand Rapids
Festival of the Arts unveiled the appointment on Friday, June 7, the first day of the three-day, showcase of art, music, dance and more, including an appearance earlier that day by the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony under conductor John Varineau.
For the next year, Grand Rapids Symphony’s Music Director Marcelo Lehninger and President and CEO Mary Tuuk, along with Varineau, will serve as ambassadors for the annual event, which will be held June 5-7, 2020.
“I’m thrilled to have Grand Rapids Symphony back for Festival of the Arts in 2020 and to have their leaders involved as honorary co-chairs," said David Abbott, Executive Director for Festival of the Arts. “Festival remains grateful for the Youth Symphony for their continued performance and looks forward to the professional company joining in on the fun.”
“Marcelo is already formulating some surprises that we know will wow the community,” Abbott said.
This past year, Grand Rapids Ballet’s Executive Director Glenn Del Vecchio and Artistic Director James Sofranko served as honorary co-chairs for the 50th anniversary Festival of the Arts. Grand Rapids Symphony now takes over the role of promoting the importance of art and culture in West Michigan leading to the event that’s held each year on the weekend following the first Friday that falls in June.
“Festival of the Arts has a special place in our hearts as it does in yours as well,” said Tuuk, a Grand Rapids native who also attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids. “Since childhood, I’ve known that, in Grand Rapids, summer in the city truly begins with Festival.”
Fifty years ago this month, Alexander Calder’s 43-foot tall, 42-ton stabile, “La Grande Vitesse,” was installed in downtown Grand Rapids as the fledgling National Endowment for the Arts’ first work of public art. Former Congressman Gerald R. Ford, who later became 38th President of the United States, was instrumental in securing the $45,000 grant in 1967.
For its dedication on June 14, 1969, the Grand Rapids Symphony performed music by George Gershwin and Charles Ives, and the orchestra gave the premiere performance of a piece titled “Inaugural Fanfare” commissioned for the occasion by Aaron Copland.
The installation of the orange/red sculpture that also measures 54 feet long and 30 feet wide was the inspiration for Festival of the Arts, held for the first time in June 1970. Over time, “The Calder,” as it’s popularly known, has become a symbol of the city, and Festival has grown to become the biggest street party of the summer in Grand Rapids.
The Grand Rapids Symphony or its musicians, performing as soloists or in smaller ensembles, have been a part of Festival of the Arts for most of the past five decades. Next year, musicians of the orchestra will perform in some capacity for the annual event that’s open for free to the entire community.
Recently, members of Grand Rapids Ballet performed on Calder Plaza for a standing-room only crowd on Saturday, June 8, the second day of Festival 2019.
Three years ago, the Grand Rapids Symphony introduced Lehninger as its newly appointed Music Director on the eve of Festival of the Arts 2016. The following day, its leaders took the Brazilian-born conductor on a walking tour of Festival of the Arts and downtown Grand Rapids.
It was Lehninger’s introduction to Festival of the Arts as well as to the arts and culture of Grand Rapids, said Varineau, who will mark his 35th anniversary season in 2019-20 with the Grand Rapids Symphony.
“He put on a red T-shirt with an image of the Calder,” Varineau said. “He saw the sights, ate the food, rode the Di Suvero Swing and enjoyed everything Festival had to offer.