Grand Rapids Symphony's Marcelo Lehninger leads orchestra in picturesque adventure into the future

Marcelo Lehninger
The Rapidian

Imagine a day at an amusement park with wild rides, unusual sights, new experiences and surprises around every corner.
That gives some insight into the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Classical series concerts “Pictures at an Exhibition” this weekend in DeVos Performance Hall.
The park’s tour guide was music director Marcelo Lehninger. The special guest was violinist Stefan Jackiw, but the stalwart cast of colorful characters were the musicians of the Grand Rapids Symphony.
It’s worth remembering that a rollercoaster ride would be no fun if was all downhill. That wouldn’t be a ride, it would be a fall.
The new music director of the Grand Rapids Symphony led the audience on an adventure with a soundtrack especially suited to the occasion for the Richard and Helen DeVos Classical concerts on Friday and Saturday, March 3-4, 2017.
Lehninger’s final concerts of the season, entirely of music composed or arranged in the 20th century, had a lot to say and summed up his first season in Grand Rapids very neatly.
John Corigliano’s clever Promenade Overture is a musical insider’s joke that leaves the audience, from start to finish, wondering what’s going on? The stage almost is empty at the start. The music begins in the wings. Soon, musicians begin filing on stage as they play, beginning with the piccolo and ending with the tuba. A fair bit of aleatoric music in the score allows time for the players to get from point A to point B without crashing into stands or bumping into chairs. Random chance makes each performance a little different. Even when they aren’t walking and playing, that alone keeps the musicians on their toes.
When Leslie Gore recorded “It’s My Party (and I’ll Cry If I Want To)” and followed it with the answer song, “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” it was the same singer, recording few weeks later, in 1963. Corigliano’s Promenade Overture is an answer to Joseph Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony No. 45, in which musicians depart from the stage until only two violinists are left. This reply took some 209 years.
That bit of cheek was followed by some of the most melancholy music ever written. When news broke of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death and John F. Kennedy’s assassination among other terrible moments in American history, Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings is what a shocked nation heard on radio and TV. The pathos it projects properly balances sorrow and hope.
Lehninger and the orchestra were equal to the occasion with phrases that were precise but felt free and flowing. The give and take between musical lines was carefully balanced with room to breathe. The audience, conversely, holding its breath at the climax, continued to hold it even longer.
Lehninger has good instincts and trusts them. Just as importantly, his orchestra is learning to do the same. The piece ended with a lengthy period of silence before the applause. That’s proof that the performance did want the players meant to do. Read the rest of the review here