The Grand Rapids Symphony and Chorus will take center stage at Carnegie Hall on April 20, playing a selection of beautiful, illustrious pieces by Brazilian, Spanish and French composers. But before taking off for the Big Apple, the orchestra will preview its playlist for Grand Rapids on April 13 and 14 at DeVos Performance Hall.
Marcelo Lehninger, musical director for the Grand Rapids Symphony, is excited to give a concert that not only celebrates rich, classical music but also introduces the orchestra to New York audiences.
“There are so many things about this performance,” he said. “Of course, it will be a great musical night, but also, we’ll be telling New York, and the world, how great Grand Rapids is. So, it’s very important for us to be there at this wonderful opportunity.”
It all started when Lehninger sat down with Roger Nelson, former chief operating officer of the Grand Rapids Symphony, to plan the season. When thinking about the ways they could improve the visibility of the orchestra outside of Grand Rapids, Carnegie Hall immediately came to mind.
“We submitted a proposal, and Carnegie got interested in us,” Lehninger said. “There was one specific program in the season that they really enjoyed, and they had a date available, and we could go there the week after we performed the programming in Grand Rapids. So, it was just all the stars aligning,” he laughed. “We said ‘you know what, let’s go now.’”
Esteemed Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire will join the Grand Rapids Symphony and Chorus for the performances. The partnership with Freire is a dream come true for Lehninger, as he has known Freire as both a musician and a friend.
“He has known my mom since . . . they are childhood friends,” Lehninger said. “So, I’ve known Nelson since I was born, and he’s been a very important figure in my life — mentor, father-like, wonderful friend.”
Lehninger asked Freire to perform with the orchestra before Carnegie was on the books. They’d been on tour in Australia when he approached Freire with the idea.
“I told him we might be able to tack that concert to a New York tour or something like that, so it was a possibility, but the original conversation was that he would come here to Grand Rapids to play with the orchestra,” Lehninger said. “Nelson, he’s in his 70s, and I am not sure he ever played with the Grand Rapids Symphony before. He plays with all the great orchestras in the world and all the great conductors; he’s really a legend. So, the fact that we can bring him here — I’m very proud of that.”
The Grand Rapids Symphony and Chorus, along with Nelson Freire, will play Bolero, Momoprecoce, Nights in the Gardens of Spain and Chôros No. 10 Rasga o Coração.
“I remember I was talking to Roger, when we started planning the season, about this piece, which was Villa-Lobos’ Chôros Number 10, which is this piece for a large orchestra and chorus with a lot of Brazilian rhythms,” Lehninger said. “He wanted me to program a piece that would kind of showcase my culture, my music — Brazil. So, I thought about that piece because it was also nice to have the chorus singing something different.”
Beyond the Carnegie Hall preview shows, Lehninger wants to encourage everyone to experience the orchestra. Between the movie series, pops series and classical series, there are plenty of opportunities for music lovers of all ages to engage with the Grand Rapids Symphony.
“I feel sometimes people are afraid to come to concerts,” he said. “They feel they don’t belong to that environment . . . the orchestra is yours. Everybody belongs to that environment,” he continued. “It’s not a formal environment anymore where you need to dress up. You can dress more casually and just be part of something that, if you don’t experience at that particular moment, is lost in time.”
*Main photo courtesy of Grand Rapids Symphony