Grand Rapids Symphony's Sacred Dimensions series marks 500th anniversary of Reformation with Hope College program

Five hundred years ago, an obscure theologian launched a scholarly dispute against the Roman Catholic Church’s efforts to raise money to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Martin Luther, an Augustinian priest, issued his objections to the church’s practice of selling indulgences, allegedly nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of a church on Oct. 31, 1517.

That crack of a hammer on the nail that affixed Luther’s academic challenge soon shook the very foundations of Christendom and launched the Reformation.

In celebration of this year’s 500th anniversary of that event, the Grand Rapids Symphony performs music on Wednesday, March 29, by four composers who wrote sacred music for the newly emerging Protestant churches.

Soprano Maria Jette joins Associate Conductor John Varineau and the orchestra for The Reformation Concert at 7:30 p.m. in the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts at Hope College in Holland.

Vocal as well as instrumental music by J.S. Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Dietrich Buxtehude and Heinrich Schütz will be performed in the program that’s part of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Sacred Dimensions series. The Sacred Dimensions series, which nourishes the soul with spiritually uplifting music, presented in the sacred spaces in which they were meant to be heard, is sponsored by a partner who wishes to remain anonymous.

“Of course, J.S. Bach reigns supreme when it comes to the music of the German Reformed Church,” Varineau said. “But Maria Jette and I thought it would be fun to feature some other Reformed composers,” Varineau said.

Two brass choir pieces, one by Buxtehude and one by Schutz, and a larger orchestra overture by Telemann titled Ancient and Modern Nations are part of the program.

Jette, a frequent guest artist with the Grand Rapids Symphony, has a wide-ranging career that encompasses music from Baroque opera and the symphonic/orchestral repertoire, to Latin American chamber music and Edwardian parlor music, to Tin Pan Alley, the Great American Songbook and countless commercial jingles.

The resident of Minneapolis/St. Paul has made appearances with the orchestras of Houston, Kansas City and Buffalo among others, and she’s been a regular guest at the Oregon Bach, Victoria Bach and San Luis Obispo Mozart Festivals.

On the lighter side, Jette’s been a regular guest on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, heard on National Public Radio. With the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, she starred as the Mrs. in the 2002 premiere of Keillor’s operatic excursion, Mr. and Mrs. Olson.  She has performed for more than 100,000 kids throughout the country in her own version of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs & Ham and Gertrude McFuzz, composed by Rob Kapilow.

The Grand Rapids Symphony will perform Felix Mendelssohn’s beloved “Reformation” Symphony No. 5, which features prominently Martin Luther’s famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress is our God.

“People may not know that Mendelssohn's Reformation Symphony wasn't written to celebrate the Reformation of 1517, but rather for the 300th Anniversary of the Augsburg Confession of 1530,” Varineau said.

The concert is part of Hope College’s series, The Reformation and the Making of the Modern World.

Last year, the Grand Rapids Symphony gave its first performance in the Miller Center for Musical Arts in May 2016 in the 800-seat auditorium, part of the 64,000 square-foot center that opened in October 2015.

The $35 million project, including costs of construction and an endowment to provide for maintenance, was named for Jack H. Miller retired in 2002 after 48 years at the helm of the Howard Miller Company, which was founded by his father, Howard C. Miller, in 1926.

A 1954 graduate of Hope College, Jack H. Miller is a former member of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s board of directors and continues as an honorary member of the board.

Tickets are $20, $30 and $45 or $5 for students. Call the Grand Rapids Symphony at (616) 454-9451 ext. 4 or go online to

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at 11:00
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