Wednesday, 24 April 2019 13:30

Closing One Door, Opening Another: Grand Rapids Symphony ends this season with shows close to the heart

Written by  Danata Paulino
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Parting is such sweet sorrow, but before a new and exciting journey can begin, the old must come to a close. The Grand Rapids Symphony is going above and beyond with three very different, but very special shows for the 89th season, closing out in May.

With the first show, the symphony wants to pay tribute to great women from the past century with The 20th/21st Century Concert: Celebrating Women on May 3. There was a time when the seats of the symphony were occupied only by men, but women have made leaps and bounds over time. The GRS itself has strived for equality with its women musicians, guests and soloists. 

Meanwhile, the composers of the night are all groundbreaking women. Opening the program is Chamber Dance, composed by Grammy Award winner Joan Tower, also the first woman to be awarded the Grawemeyer Award for Music. Two of the pieces, Adante for Strings and Rissolty, Rissolty, were written by composer Ruth Crawford Seeger, who in 1930 became the first woman to receive the Guggenheim Fellowship. 

As another treat, trombonist Ava Ordman returns to the symphony, featured in Their Eyes are Fireflies, a piece by David Beidenbender co-commissioned specifically to showcase Ordman’s talents. 

Just as songwriters might write for a particular artist, composers will create pieces of music with a specific soloist in mind. It’s a true testament to her musical talents. Ordman herself is also a strong proponent of women musicians, in 2017 releasing a solo CD titled It’s About Time: Music for Trombone by Women Composers.


Magic and adventure might be closer than you realize. On May 10-12, movie lovers can embark from The Shire, journey across dangerous tides on the Black Pearl with Captain Jack Sparrow, and face their fears against He Who Must Not Be Named. 

Soar alongside conductor Bob Bernhardt while he leads the Grand Rapids Pops through the galaxies in the anticipated and heroic concert Star Wars, Star Trek, Middle Earth and More! The musical adventure will take you through fantastic stories with epic soundtracks like Superman, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean and more.

This larger-than-life experience showcases vocalist Mela Dailey, a compelling force and internationally acclaimed soprano. She’s a Grammy winner and eight-time nominee with the choral ensemble Conspirare. Her vast repertoire reflects the diversity of talents, which range from musical theater to gospel and motion picture soundtrack.


Everyone in Michigan is dreaming of summering with family along the lakeshore, seeing that place where, “It’s all rippling streams, blue sky, sunshine, and cool, green shadows,” as a friend described Brahm’s Symphony No. 2. This picturesque scene will be featured in the final concert, Chopin And Brahms: Marcelo and His Mom on May 17-18. 

Brahms struggled for years to finish his first symphony, but was able to create his second in only a few sunny months beside an Austrian Lake. The movements aren’t without some moments of darkening clouds, brought on by thundering timpani rolls and ominous chords from the low brass, obstructing the view of the cheerful sun. Still, the symphony ends with an upbeat kick to an Austrian dance known as a ländler that brings the audience into summertime. 

Musical tradition is known to be passed through the family and this concert brings an intriguing twist. Music Director Marcelo Lehninger will conduct the show with his mother, acclaimed Brazilian musician Sonia Goulart, on piano. She’s performed around the world in sold-out concerts from Los Angeles to Switzerland, winning 30 national and international prizes throughout her career. 

Frédéric Chopin’s Concerto No. 2 for Piano is respectively reserved to exhibit the piano’s talent. An introduction of themes by the orchestra lays the pathway in which Goulart takes over the dramatic musical storytelling. The piece holds a special place in the family’s heart, as it was the final musical work that Goulart performed in public before Lehninger was born.

That family dynamic is also a strong subject in Maurice Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye or Mother Goose. Although he never had kids of his own, the composer cherished children and spending time with them, specifically telling them stories. Ravel even composed piano duets based on some of the stories from Tales of Mother Goose.

The music has a different spirit for each character. For instance, everyone is familiar with the story of Sleeping Beauty — Ravel introduces her with a slow and steady tune, different from Tom Thumb’s childish mannerisms portrayed with continuous shifting of meters, signaling a short attention span. Listeners will be immersed in the Mother Goose story of princess Laideronnette, who is cursed by a witch to be ugly. 

Coming to the end is never a happy thought in theory. Yet, these showstopping and enchanting concerts are the best way to convene the season and unveil the talent for the coming Picnic Pops and 2019-2020 lineup. Celebrate the beauty the Grand Rapids Symphony has to extend as we leave the winter blues behind and greet a new sun-filled season. 


The 20th/21st century concert: celebrating Women
St. Cecilia Music Center
24 Ransom Ave. NE, Grand Rapids
May 3, (616) 545-9451

 Star Wars, Star Trek, Middle Earth and more!
DeVos Performance Hall
303 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
May 10-12

 Chopin and Brahams: Marcelo and his mom
DeVos Performance Hall
303 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
May 17-18

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