Gift confirms foundation’s commitment to the arts

Marcelo Lehninger at Grand Rapids Smyphony offices in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Friday July 14, 2023. Photo by Alfield Reeves.

A local foundation has pledged to fund the chair of Grand Rapids Symphony’s music director for an additional three years. The Daniel and Pamella DeVos Foundation announced the gift of financial support for music director Marcelo Lehninger at a special dinner held in early February.

Keith Elder. Courtesy of Grand Rapids Symphony.

“We are incredibly thankful to Dan and Pamella for their generous commitment to a quality music experience here in West Michigan,” Grand Rapids Symphony CEO Keith C. Elder said. “Their gift will allow us to push our orchestra even further under the amazing talent of Marcelo.

“The vision Marcelo brings to creating a memorable music experience is truly special for our community. We look forward to welcoming our community to hear their Grand Rapids Symphony under Marcelo’s direction in the coming years.”

Grand Rapids Symphony, one of only 50 full-time orchestras in the country, is celebrating nearly 100 years of providing West Michigan concert goers with remarkable musical experiences. The financial commitment will support Lehninger in continuing to represent the Symphony and West Michigan to others around the globe.  

“The Grand Rapids Symphony has been a cornerstone of our community’s arts and culture sector for nearly a century, reminding us time and time again of the transformative power of music to unite and uplift us,” said Dan and Pamella in a written statement.

Pamella and Dan DeVos. Courtesy photo.

“Marcelo’s musicianship and undeniable talent have pushed the Symphony to even greater heights in recent years. We are blessed to have one of the best right here in Grand Rapids, and look forward to enjoying the continued brilliance that will be achieved under his leadership.

“With this gift, we are honored to support a legacy of artistic excellence and we hope to inspire others to recognize the value of investing in the arts for the betterment of society,“ they said. Daniel and Pamella’s foundation was formed in 1992 with a goal of building strong communities by investing in the arts and education and aims to support community institution in Grand Rapids and around Michigan. 

Brazilian-born Lehninger has been music director of the Symphony since 2016 and was recently appointed Artistic Director of the Bellingham Festival of Music. He previously served in positions with the New West Symphony in Los Angeles and Boston Symphony Orchestra. 

“I am full of gratitude and admiration at the generosity and philanthropy of Dan and Pamella,  who have made a strong impact on our beloved Grand Rapids and the world of orchestral music,” said Lehninger. “Their unwavering commitment to the arts and their profound belief in the transformative power of music have enriched our lives and elevated the cultural landscape of our community.

“I look forward to the next three years, which are sure to be filled with beautiful music echoed across West Michigan thanks to this meaningful gift.”

During his time with the Symphony, Lehninger has conducted more than 100 performances ranging from longtime favorites to more than 10 new works such as Immortal Beloved by Alexander Miller, Double Concerto for Marimba and Vibraphone by Christopher Swist and Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner by Nina Shekhar. He brought the Symphony to Carnegie Hall in 2018, its first performance at the storied venue in thirteen years, and led the orchestra in a recording of Strauss and Villa-Lobos released in December 2021.  

As a guest conductor, Lehninger has led some of the leading orchestras in the United States, including Chicago, Boston and Detroit, among many others. He also has appeared extensively in Canada, Europe, South America, Japan and Australia.

Lehninger studied violin and piano and holds a master’s degree from the Conductors Institute at New York’s Bard College. He has received several awards, including the First Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Scholarship. Lehninger is the son of Brazilian pianist Sônia Goulart and German violinist Erich Lehninger. He resides in Grand Rapids with his family.

Read more about Lehninger in Meet the Maestros by Gil Stansell in the Sept/Oct issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. 

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