Grand Rapids maestro charts new course

Jan 5, 2017

WKAR's Jamie Paisley talks with Marcelo Lehninger about getting to know a new orchestra and the upcoming Brahms/Schumann concert at Royce Auditorium, in the St. Cecilia Music Center


The Grand Rapids Symphony is in the middle of a transition year. For the past few years, they've been in the process of trying to find their new Music Director. Eventually, the Brazilian-German conductor Marcelo Lehninger was tapped to helm this esteemed ensemble. During this inaugural season, Lehninger is using the concert repertoire as a means of learning the strengths and personalities of the musicians, and vice versa.

Maestro Marcelo Lehninger with the Grand Rapids Symphony, taking applause.
Credit Terry Johnston | Grand Rapids Symphony

"Yeah, I think it works both ways actually." says Lehninger, mere minutes after wrapping up a rehearsal of Brahms and Schumann just outside the Royce Auditorium in downtown Grand Rapids. "They are getting to know me and my musical ideas, and my gestures, and my, you know, my gestural communication, and I’m getting to know them, what they have to present musically. And not only, you know, the players but the whole ensemble, you know how we adjust to different acoustics, how you balance, you know, the orchestra and things like that. And then of course that gives me wonderful feedback to go into the future and thinking about new programs and what pieces I think the orchestra will play really well. It could be pieces they’ve already played, or of course new pieces, Brazilian composers, things like that, that I’m absorbing and digesting information, musical information, from this ensemble, to have a successful tenure here and do programs that I think will be successful. Not only in terms of the audience enjoying, but of course the orchestra having fun playing it."

During a concert Friday, Jan 6th, held at the Royce Auditorium in downtown Grand Rapids, Maestro Lehninger will be joined by this season’s Gilmore Young Artist Award winner, Daniel Hsu to perform the Schumann Piano Concerto.

"That gives me wonderful feedback to go into the future and thinking about new programs and what pieces I think the orchestra will play really well." - Maestro Marcelo Lehninger

"The concerto, the piano concerto, which is a very special piece because it was written for Clara, Schumann’s wife, who played it and also who helped him compose it. And because Brahms kept this beautiful friendship with her." Says Lehninger, "I think, it’s a piece that has a beautiful context in the program." While the second half of the program is dedicated to Schumann, the first half features two works by Schumann’s dear friend, Brahms: The Variations on a Theme of Haydn as well as the Tragic Overture, which Maestro Lehninger also has insight for. 

"It’s very interesting because Brahms, of course, you have the young Brahms, you have the more mature Brahms. We are doing two pieces that are more mature pieces. Although the overture is 'Tragic' as the name suggested. But they’re two pieces that show those incredible qualities that this man had which is the ability to be dramatic and youthfully passionate and somewhat tragic at places. But also you have the moments of lyricism, the moments of a more calm mature person, you know, all that in those two pieces, which shows a lot of his personality and his ability to write incredible music. So, you know, it’s about friendship, it’s about love, it’s about two sides of a same person’s personality, it’s connected in this great era of extremely romantic German Music."

The Grand Rapids Symphony led by Marcelo Lehninger and joined by Gilmore Young Artist winner Daniel Hsu, perform this Friday at Royce Hall in downtown Grand Rapids. More information at GRsymphony.org