Grand Rapids Symphony’s 2017-18 Season Paves the Way Back to New York City’s Carnegie Hall

Nearly 12 years ago, the Grand Rapids Symphony capped off its 75th anniversary season with a trip to the Big Apple and a concert in New York City’s Carnegie Hall. New York Times critic Bernard Holland, noting the enthusiastic reception for the orchestra in the 2,800-seat hall, 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.”

The Grand Rapids Symphony, under its new Music Director Marcelo Lehninger, will return to Carnegie Hall near the end of its 88th season in April 2018. The Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, for the first time, will travel along with the orchestra for the performance in the world-famous concert hall.

The Brazilian-born conductor will be joined the eminent Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire for a performance on April 20th, one week after appearing in DeVos Performance Hall with a concert featuring Freire as soloist in Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain and Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Momoprecóce.

Today, the Grand Rapids Symphony unveils its 2017-18 season with classical blockbusters, classic rock, Broadway’s biggest hits, family friendly entertainment, and cinematic special events including second and third films in the Harry Potter Film Concert Series with live music. The Grand Rapids Symphony in 2017-18 will perform all-time classical favorites including Ravel’s Bolero, Holst’s The Planets, Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony No. 41, and an all-Tchaikovsky program on the Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series.

Besides Freire, world-famous soloists including violinist Sarah Chang and pianist Gabriela Montero – all three personal friends and colleagues of Lehninger – will grace the Grand Rapids Symphony’s stage.

At St. Cecilia Music Center, the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Crowe Horwath Great Eras and Porter Hills Coffee Classics series will expand from three concerts to four.

Lehninger, who will be on the podium for eight of the 10 pairs of concerts in DeVos Performance Hall plus three of the four Great Eras concerts, sums up the 2016-17 season in one word – “variety.” Though Lehninger has only been on the job since June 2016, many more years of work as associate conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra under James Levine, as music director of the New West Symphony in Los Angeles, and as a well-traveled guest conductor have gone into preparing him to organize his first season on behalf of the Grand Rapids Symphony.

Lehninger’s past relationships and ongoing musical collaborations with several soloists will play an important part of the season beginning with Freire, who was a childhood friend and later a colleague of Lehninger’s mother, pianist Sônia Goulart. “I grew up listening to him playing. We have almost a father-son relationship,” Lehninger said.

Several years ago, Lehninger led a performance of Villa-Lobos’ Momoprecóce with Freire and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood. The Brazilian pianist is one of just 72 pianists featuring on the 200-CD box set, Great Pianists of the 20th Century, issued by Phillips in 1999. “He did not like to record,” Lehninger said. “But he’s played with the most important orchestras and in the most important cities all over the world.”

Sarah Chang, who was in Grand Rapids as St. Cecilia Music Center’s 2011 Great Artist, will open the Grand Rapids Symphony’s 2017-18 season with West Side Story Suite for Violin and Orchestra, arranged for her by David Newman from Leonard Bernstein’s musical score. The performance coincides with the 100th anniversary of Bernstein’s birth in 1917. “Sarah’s a wonderful violinist, a wonderful artist, and a personal friend of mine,” Lehninger said. “She’s the only one who plays the piece, so it was a perfect fit.”

Venezuelan pianist Gabriella Montero will be soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, part of the all-Tchaikovsky program Lehninger will lead. “Gabriella has a sound, a big, round sound that’ll be perfect for it,” Lehninger said. “She’s a great, great pianist with a great personality, a wonderful heart, and a fabulous musician.”

Grand Rapids Symphony’s 88th season includes such monumental works as Richard Strauss’ epic tone poem, Ein Heldenleben or A Hero’s Life in DeVos Hall. “It’s a big piece, and it’s a piece I love,” Lehninger said about the work by Strauss. “It shows off the orchestra, and it has a great solo for the concertmaster. It’s really important that we showcase our musicians,” he added. “They are our heroes.”

Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus will join the orchestra for Verdi’s Requiem in the fall and for Beethoven’s “Choral” Symphony No. 9 to end the 2017-18 season. “It’s one of the pieces I enjoy conducting the most,” Lehninger said about the Verdi Requiem.

The Brazilian-born Lehninger will lead the orchestra in several pieces by Brazil’s best-known composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos, including Momoprecóce featuring Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire. Several years ago, Lehninger led a performance of it with the Freire and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood.

Join the Grand Rapids Pops at the movies for a full-length screening of An American in Paris starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, the 1951 film powered by live musical accompaniment. Back by popular demand, the Fox Motors Pops Series celebrates the music of one of the greatest film composers in history with ‘Star Warsand More: The Music of John Williams.

The six-concert season, which opens with a salute to the music of Fleetwood Mac by the rock group Landslide, includes an evening of Broadway blockbusters with songs from Broadway’s biggest shows of all time including Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, The Sound Of Music, Chicago, A Chorus Line, and Cats.

Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt will be on the podium for the Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops, one of three shows he’ll lead on the series. Associate Conductor John Varineau will conduct the other three concerts including The Second City Guide to the Symphony, an evening of sketch comedy and beautiful music featuring The Second City comedy troupe.

The Grand Rapids Symphony’s Crowe Horwath Great Eras Series and Porter Hills Coffee Classics expand from three concerts to four with concerts celebrating the music of the Baroque, Classical and Romantic Eras, now joined by music of the 20th Century and beyond.

Grand Rapids Symphony’s own musicians, as soloists and as composers, will be in the spotlight several times this season.

Principal Flutist Christopher Kantner will be soloist in Mozart’s Flute Concerto in G major in DeVos Hall while Principal Second Violinist Eric Tanner and Principal Trumpeter Charley Lea will be featured on the Great Eras Series in St. Cecilia Music Center

Composer Jeremy Crosmer, who serves as Assistant Principal Cellist, will compose a new, 8-minute piece to open the season in September in DeVos Hall, and composer Alexander Miller, who is Assistant Principal Oboist, will write a new 12-minute work to close the season in May 2018. “I think it will make a great statement, a huge statement, to begin the season and end the season with a commission from someone in our musical family,” Lehninger said.

Pianist Rafał Blechacz, the sole winner of all five First Prizes at the 15th International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition, held in 2005 in Warsaw, the only pianist ever to win all five prizes, will be soloist in Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1. The Polish pianist also is the 2014 Gilmore Artist of the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival in Kalamazoo.

The 2017-18 season welcomes back English-born David Lockington, Grand Rapids Symphony Music Director Laureate to lead the orchestra in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 4. Lockington’s wife, violinist Dylana Jenson, will be soloist in Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2.

Norwegian conductor Rune Bergmann, who has guest conducted the Grand Rapids Symphony twice in the past, returns for Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 plus Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer.”

Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero will be soloist in Tchaikovsky’s popular Piano Concerto No. 1, part of the all-Tchaikovsky program Lehninger will lead.

Besides the Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops in early December, featuring the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus and Grand Rapids Youth Choruses, the Christmas season will see the return of The Snowman, a screening of the classic holiday animated special with Howard Blake’s musical score played live for the Grand Rapids Symphony’s DTE Energy Foundation Family Series.

A highlight of the 2017-18 season will be special-event screenings of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the second and third films in the Harry Potter franchise of eight movies, based on the books by J.K. Rowling.

Meanwhile, the Grand Rapids Symphony will unveil its 2017 D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops series in mid-March. Plenty of great music is coming this summer to Cannonsburg Ski Area.


Season tickets are on sale now with select concerts also on sale to subscribers. Subscriptions are available at a discount of up to 50 percent off select series and seats for new package orders. Single tickets will be available beginning July 31st.

Tickets are available at the GRS ticket office, weekdays 9 am-5 pm, at 300 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 100, (located across from the Calder Plaza), or by calling 616.454.9451 x 4. (Phone orders will be charged a $2 per ticket service fee, with a $12 maximum.)