Grand Rapids Symphony - One of America's Leading Orchestras
When the Grand Rapids Symphony traveled to New York City as part of its 75th anniversary celebration in 2005, New York Times critic Bernard Holland began his review with, “The Grand Rapids Symphony came to Carnegie Hall on Saturday night and brought a good part of the city with it.”
Holland may have been surprised, but the enthusiastic audience that accompanied its orchestra to the Big Apple wasn’t. Since 1930, the Grand Rapids Symphony has served its community and has remained a source of civic pride throughout West Michigan.
Now in its 88th season, the orchestra led by Music Director Marcelo Lehninger, Associate Conductor John Varineau, and Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt touches the lives of some 200,000 people from 14 counties across the state through concert series including its 10-concert Richard and Helen DeVos Classical, six-concert Fox Motors Pops, and four-concert Crowe Horwath Great Eras series plus its D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops in the summer.
Grand Rapids Symphony’s recent initiatives include Symphony Scorecard and Free for Families, which bring new audiences into DeVos Performance Hall who otherwise would not be able to attend programs. The orchestra’s Music for Health initiative, which sends musicians into area hospitals armed with the healing power of music, was honored in June when its program administrator, GRS violinist Diane McElfish Helle, was awarded the prestigious Ford Musician Award for Excellence in Community Service by the League of American Orchestras.
Since 1944, four generations of concert goers have grown up attending Fifth Grade Concerts, providing a live, concert experience for more than 15,000 youngsters each year. Today, GRS Gateway to Music programs create a network of 17 access points for people of all ages and walks of life to engage with orchestral music through offerings including Lollipop Concerts, Mosaic Scholarships and Artist in Residence programs.
Grand Rapids Symphony’s 12 recordings include an album of new music by British composer Philip Sawyers, released internationally in 2011 by Nimbus Alliance, and Invention & Alchemy featuring jazz harpist Deborah Henson-Conant, which earned a 2007 Grammy nomination for Best Classical Crossover Album.
The orchestra’s ranks are filled with musicians who have made careers in West Michigan. Last season, principal violist Leslie VanBecker and double bassist Kevin Flannery both celebrated 40 years of service with the Grand Rapids Symphony. This season, violist Mary Jane Miller and violinist Collette VandenBerg mark their 40th anniversaries with the orchestra.
The 2017-18 season is the 10th anniversary season of the Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Choruses as well as the 56th season of the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus and the 57th of the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony. In 2013, Grand Rapids Symphony became a member of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, which represents musicians in 50 of the largest orchestras in the United States.
The Grand Rapids Symphony takes pride in having helped launch the career of former music director Semyon Bychkov, one of the world’s most eminent conductors. In 1986, the organization made history by appointing Catherine Comet as music director. Two years later, Comet, the first woman to lead a regional professional orchestra in the United States, was awarded the prestigious Seaver/NEA Conductor’s Award.
In 2005, Holland wrapped up his review of the Grand Rapids Symphony with these words: “I hope those supporters understand its achievement is not playing in Carnegie Hall but playing in Grand Rapids. Music doesn't need any more international stars; it needs people who stay home and serve their neighbors ... The orchestra is what it ought to be and gives a glimmer of hope for all of us in the music world.”
Updated December 2017