Grand Rapids Symphony Unveils 2020-21 Classical Season


GRAND RAPIDS, MI, Feb. 12, 2020 – Some of the greatest works of music ever composed, performed by many of the world’s finest soloists, will be part of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s 91st season.

Today, the Grand Rapids Symphony unveils its 2020-21 Classical Season with such well-loved works as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, Mozart’s Requiem, and Mahler’s “Tragic” Symphony No. 6, with guest artists including superstar violinist Sarah Chang and legendary pianist Nelson Freire.

The 91st season opens in September with Beethoven’s famous Fifth Symphony plus a new piece by Grand Rapids’ own Alexander L. Miller, inspired by the life of Beethoven, which also features the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus.

“It will be the Grand Rapids Symphony in full force to open the season,” said Music Director Marcelo Lehninger, who will begin his fifth season with the Grand Rapids Symphony in 2020-21.

Popular guest soloists returning to DeVos Performance Hall include pianist Joyce Yang and cellist Andre Ioniță. Violinist Sarah Chang will make her third appearance with the Grand Rapids Symphony and her second for the season opener in September.

“We’re getting some old friends back, and we’ll be making some new friends as well,” Lehninger said. 

New friends will include Leslie Odom, Jr., the Tony and Grammy Award-winning actor who starred on Broadway as Aaron Burr in Hamilton and on NBC TV’s Smash. He’ll join the Grand Rapids Symphony for a special, one-night only show in September.

Classical music that every music lover will enjoy includes Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, familiar from the Disney animated film, Fantasia; and Richard Strauss’ tone poem, Also Sprach Zarathustra, which Stanley Kubrick used at the beginning of his 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The Grand Rapids Symphony’s 91st season includes the debut of a new series, The Pianists, and a reboot of its chamber orchestra series in St. Cecilia Music Center, featuring Grand Rapids Symphony musicians as soloists on each of its programs.

Season subscriptions are on sale today for the 10-concert Classical Series, the four-concert Chamber Orchestra Series and Coffee Classics Series, and the two-concert Pianists Series.

The Grand Rapids Symphony will unveil its 2020-21 Pops Series and Symphonic Boom Series in March. The lineup for the 2020 D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops at Cannonsburg Ski Area was announced in January.

The new two-concert series The Pianists will welcome Natasha Paremski in November and Andrew von Oeyen in March for programs including two works for piano and orchestra plus solo music for piano alone on each program. Paremski and Von Oeyen are past Gilmore Young Artists of the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival in Kalamazoo, a biennial event that has helped make West Michigan known throughout the world as an important center for keyboard music.

“It’s a way to give to the community that’s already here and that especially loves and appreciates the piano,” Lehninger said.

In addition to the new Pianists Series, which will be held on Sunday evenings in DeVos Performance Hall, three concerts on the Classical Series will include eminent pianists playing two of the most difficult piano concertos in the entire repertoire, testing the soloist’s technique and stamina in equal measure.

Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 will welcome the return of Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire, who last appeared with the Grand Rapids Symphony in April 2018 in New York City’s Carnegie Hall. Armenian-born, Russian-trained pianist Sergei Babayan, a first-prize winner of four major piano competitions and an esteemed teacher of such pianists as Daniil Trifonov, will make his GRS debut with Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3.

Celebrated soloists on the Classical Series includes the GRS debut of violinist Rachel Barton Pines performing Aram Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto, and the return of cellist Andrei Ioniță to play Dmitri Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1.

The “bad boy of the organ,” Cameron Carpenter, who travels with his own custom-built instrument, will be special guest for concerts including Saint-Saens’ “Organ” Symphony No. 3 and Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani.

Guest conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto, Music Director of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de México, will lead concerts including saxophonist Timothy McAllister of the University of Michigan performing American composer John Adams’ Saxophone Concerto.

Chinese guest conductor Tianyi Lu, a rising star on the podium, will be joined by sitarist Gaurav Mazumdar for Indian-American composer Reena Esmail’s Sitar Concerto.

Music by American composers includes Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, a work that that has been performed worldwide by over 500 ensembles.

Great works of the orchestral repertoire include thesumptuous Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2 of Maurice Ravel and the romantic Symphony No. 7 of Antonín Dvořák as part of the 10-concert Richard and Helen DeVos Classical Series, held on Friday and Saturday nights in DeVos Performance Hall.

The Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, directed by Pearl Shangkuan, will be heard on three separate programs, including a performance of Mozart’s Requiem. The women of the Symphony Chorus will make a special appearance to sing Debussy’s Nocturnes.

New music on the 2020-21 season includes the premiere of Immortal Beloved by Grand Rapids’ own Alexander L. Miller, assistant principal oboist of the orchestra, who has composed several pieces premiered by the orchestra. The piece, which includes the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, was inspired by Beethoven’s poetic testament bidding farewell to the love of his life.

The newly created Chamber Orchestra Series, which will have music by Mozart on each of its four concerts, also will feature no fewer than five GRS musicians in the solo spotlight. 

“It’s a bigger chance for our own musicians to be soloists,” Lehninger said.

The four-concert series will open in October with a Double Concerto for Vibraphone and Marimba by composer and percussionist Christopher Swist, who will give the premiere, joined by GRS Assistant Principal Percussionist David Hall. The evening led by Associate Conductor John Varineau also will include Assistant Concertmaster Grace Kim and Principal Violist Leslie Van Becker with Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola in E-flat major.

Principal Harpist Elizabeth Wooster Colpean will be soloist in two works including Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro for Harp and Orchestra. Principal Clarinetist Suzy Dennis Bratton will play Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major to conclude the season.

The Chamber Orchestra Series is held on Friday evenings in St. Cecilia Music Center. Highlights of each evening’s concert will be performed earlier on Friday mornings for the Coffee Classics Series, a one-hour concert that’s held without intermission.


Season tickets are on sale now with the special event with Leslie Odom, Jr., on sale to subscribers at a 20 percent discount.

Subscriptions are available at discounts of up to 30 percent off tickets for the 10-concert Classical Series tickets and up to 20 percent off for either the four-concert Chamber Orchestra Series or for the four-concert Coffee Classics Series. Current subscribers have until April 10 to renew their subscriptions. Single tickets go on sale beginning May 11.

Tickets are available at the GRS ticket office, weekdays 9 am-5 pm, at 300 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 100, (located across from the Calder Plaza), or by calling 616.454.9451 x 4. (Phone orders will be charged a $6 per ticket service fee, with an $18 maximum per order).