With the help of a $1 million grant from the Wege Foundation, the Grand Rapids Symphony is creating a 21st-century orchestra to serve not only classical music lovers but the community as a whole.
The four-year grant will be used to enhance initiatives in diversity, equity and inclusion through new concerts, events, educational opportunities, and more as the Grand Rapids Symphony seeks to share live orchestral music with a broader audience.
Marcelo Lehninger, the Grand Rapids Symphony’s music director, feels that the role of an orchestra today should be shaped by a focus on the community.
“What an orchestra in the 21st century should really represent is not just an organization that entertains and performs beautiful concerts but an organization that reaches out and serves the community in many different ways,” Lehninger said.
Part of what the Grand Rapids Symphony is doing to reach out involves physically going out into the community and bringing music beyond DeVos Performance Hall. The Grand Rapids Symphony will be kicking off a series of neighborhood concerts throughout Grand Rapids with a free performance on Saturday, July 21 at John Ball Park.
Peter Perez, president of the Grand Rapids Symphony, said the symphony anticipates up to 3,000 to 5,000 attendees and looks forward to putting on similar concerts.
“We’re very excited about this event and planning additional neighborhood concerts in the future,” Perez said. “There are other concert halls in various sectors around the city that we’ll be looking into to see how we can bring the symphony to those places.”
In recent years, the Grand Rapids Symphony has already started to transform into an organization that serves the community by focusing on accessibility and inclusion. Members of the community that receive financial assistance from the State of Michigan are eligible to become Symphony Scorecard holders and receive free tickets to most performances, and a partnership with The Rapid provides a means of transportation to the concert hall for those who need assistance.
From Lollipop Concerts for families with toddlers to $5 tickets for students, the Grand Rapids Symphony is also eager to serve as a gateway to music for young people. Programs such as Mosaic Scholars provide musical access for African American and Latino students through private one-on-one lessons, and funding from the grant will help continue to build up these opportunities for education and enrichment.
While classical music concerts can be seen as formal events that only appeal to certain people, the Grand Rapids Symphony hopes to show that anyone is welcome to come and enjoy a performance.
“We want to send a message to the community that says, ‘we are here for you, and you belong to the Grand Rapids Symphony,’” Lehninger said.
Lehninger said the Grand Rapids Symphony is also striving to incorporate a more diverse variety of musical compositions into the classical repertoire, including pieces written by female composers as well as pieces that represent other countries or ethnic groups.
“We, of course, perform Mozart and Beethoven and other incredible composers, but we are becoming more eclectic and performing a variety of different pieces now,” Lehninger said. “We perform the music of today.”
Through its various performances and programs, the Grand Rapids Symphony is in the process of doing what it can to break down barriers that might prevent people from experiencing a performance and introducing more and more people to the beauty of music.
“There aren’t many barriers left, and we want to keep seeing an expanding and more diverse audience,” Perez said. “We hope that the grant from the Wege Foundation will help bring people closer to us and we also hope that we can truly be a part of what is transforming this city in the 21st century.”
Lehninger feels that it’s important to be attentive to what is going on beyond the Grand Rapids Symphony and send a positive message of diversity and inclusion.
“Diversity is so important, especially in a country where we have so many immigrants,” Lehninger said. “We want to embrace everyone and make everyone have a feeling of belonging.”
To learn more about programs and performances, including the free concert at John Ball Park, visit the Grand Rapids Symphony’s website.
*Photos courtesy of Grand Rapids Symphony