GRAND RAPIDS, MI, May 8, 2020 – Just in time for Mother’s Day, the Grand Rapids Symphony unveils an international, virtual performance of the 18th variation from Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini that spans the Americas. Brazilian pianist Sônia Goulart joins her son, Music Director Marcelo Lehninger, and the Grand Rapids Symphony for the video available today on the orchestra’s Facebook page and YouTube page.
When Sergei Rachmaninov composed his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, a set of 24 variations for solo piano and orchestra, the Russian composer knew the 18th variation was something special.
More than 40 years later, the beautiful melody would become the main theme for the time-traveling love story Somewhere in Time, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, filmed at the famous Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in 1979.
The Academy Award-nominated film that also stars Christopher Plummer happens to be a favorite of Lehninger, who has completed four seasons with the Grand Rapids Symphony.
“It’s a movie I love,” Lehninger said. “I love Rachmaninov, and this piece for the piano is one of my favorites. It’s beautiful, it’s melodic, it’s romantic, and people recognize it.”
The virtual performance also features one of his favorite pianists, who traveled to Grand Rapids last year to perform Frederic Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the orchestra in DeVos Performance Hall.
Sônia Goulart, a child prodigy who studied in Germany and spent 10 years in Europe before returning to her native Brazil, has had a flourishing career, primarily in Europe and South America. She is a winner of more than 30 national and international prizes, including First Prize in the Frankfurt Television Competition in Germany, and the Rencontres Musicales Internationales Award in Brussels, Belgium.
Due to social distancing in response to COVID-19, the prize-winning pianist recorded her performance at home in Rio de Janeiro, as did nearly 50 members of the Grand Rapids Symphony.
Prior to the outbreak of coronavirus, Goulart had planned to be in West Michigan for Mother’s Day.
“It’s really hard for her,” Lehninger said. “She’s all alone, seven weeks now, in her apartment in Rio, and I can’t get on a plane and go help. Making music with her helps.”
“It’s a message of love for all the mothers out there,” he added.
In late March, the Grand Rapids Symphony launched a series of daily virtual performances featuring members of the entire Grand Rapids Symphony family, including musicians, conductors and musical staff of the orchestra, the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony and the Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Chorus.
The series titled From Our Home to Yours included 39 separate videos including a virtual performance of the “Hallelujah” Chorus from Handel’s Messiah featuring more than 70 musicians and singers. Since its debut on Thursday, April 9 just before Easter, the performance titled “Hallelujah for Hope” has been viewed more than 107,000 times on YouTube and reached more than 470,000 people on Facebook. A portion of the video also was used to conclude the Friday, April 10, edition of the nationally syndicated newsmagazine Inside Edition.
“In challenging times, we need music more than ever,” Lehninger said. “It’s our mission to keep delivering music anyway we can, so we need to come up with creative ways to keep delivering music.”
In response to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Grand Rapids Symphony began cancelling concerts and events in mid-March through the end of the 2019-20 season ending May 16. GRS offices closed as of Monday, March 16, with the staff continuing to work from home.
To maintain operations, the Grand Rapids Symphony launched a fundraising campaign in March titled Music More Than Ever: From Our Home to Yours with all donations to the campaign (up to $5,000) matched dollar for dollar by generous friends and supporters who pledged $50,000 in matching funds. The campaign recently met its goal having raised more than $100,000.
“During this extraordinary time, your Grand Rapids Symphony continues to innovate and create new means of sharing the joy of music while also charting new paths for financial support and sustainability,” said President & CEO Mary Tuuk. “Rather than viewing it as an obstacle, we choose to embrace this ‘bridge period’ into our new future and fully capture the opportunities that abound to deliver on our mission during this unprecedented time.”