Violin Superstar, World Premiere, And Famous Percussion For GR Symphony Opener

Sep 14, 2017

The Grand Rapids Symphony kicks off their new season this weekend with some concert hall favorites, a superstar violinist, and a bold opening statement courtesy of a world premiere. WKAR’s Jamie Paisley spent a few minutes with the new music director, Marcelo Lehninger to learn more about the program.

It is one of the most famous pieces of music in the world. and when it comes to the unceasing rhythm of that snare drum, every member of a professional orchestra percussion section knows it. Which is why according to Grand Rapids Symphony maestro Marcelo Lehninger it doesn’t matter which member of the percussion plays Bolero during the symphony’s season opening concerts this weekend.

"Of course, having someone senior, which is our case with Bill [Vits, principal percussion], it adds that level of experience that he knows that you can take a little slower tempo, or a fast tempo and he'll be able to adapt." says Lehninger. "In fact, last time we saw each other, he asked 'So, are you doing 72 or 74?' So, I think, of course, having his experience on stage will be wonderful and really valuable. But the truth is, it's just exciting and entertaining, isn't it? The trick though, is to conduct that piece. Because, honestly, it can be easily boring if you're just there beating time and giving cues. So, I always find [it] really hard actually when I have to conduct Bolero because it's so easy to conduct. But yet, you need to kind of create something interesting and more elaborate. Otherwise, you're just there beating time and being a metronome, which is that the snare drum is there for."

While the opening Grand Rapids Symphony concerts end with the Spanish flare of Ravel’s Bolero, it begins with some new Americana: Ozark Traveler, written by the Symphony’s former cellist.

"Yes, Jeremy Crosmer." says Lehninger, gleefully. "So, we're really happy to open the season, not only to open the season with a commission, which is a statement, but also to open the season with a commission made for one of our guys, one of our family members who's leaving us to go to Detroit. But, you know, he'll remain our family and keep composing for us, so I think this is really special and I think what Jeremy was trying to accomplish with this piece was not only keeping this, kind of, American theme in terms of an homage to Bernstein and Copland and Ives, but also creating something that it would be fun and entertaining to start the season."

Lehninger and the Grand Rapids Symphony round out the season-opener with Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances and a new arrangement of music from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story.

"So I remembered that Sarah Chang," recalls Lehninger, "which is this wonderful violinist, good friend of mine, she told me that David Newman, which is the Hollywood composer, composed an arrangement for violin and orchestra of West Side Story, so I immediately remembered that and I thought whoa! Maybe that would be a great thing to do, just, you know, we play West Side Story in a different arrangement with Sarah Chang as soloist! You can't ask for more. There are other arrangements, but this one specifically that we're doing here was composed for her. She's the only one that plays. So, I think that will be really unique for people to experience that."

Superstar Violinist Sarah Chang helps open the Grand Rapids Symphony and Maestro Marcelo Lehninger’s concert season at DeVos Performance Hall Friday and Saturday, September 15th and 16th. Concerts on both days start at 8pm. Tickets and more information at