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Grand Rapids Symphony

Although the official date of the founding of this orchestra is 1930, it was actually started in 1917 by 25 members of St. Cecilia Music Society in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that began by meeting up for practice sessions.

They started performing concerts and in 1923 they asked Karl Wecker from the Grand Rapids Junior College Music Department to become their conductor.   After a hiatus of 3 years when the orchestra did not perform it was re-organized in 1930 and became the Grand Rapids Symphony.  At this time they presented six pairs of concerts at the Powers Theatre, Pearl Street, with 246 subscribers, and from 1933 they performed these concerts of the season at the Grand Rapids Civic Auditorium.

In the Great Depression the orchestra provided work for 124 musicians as part of the Federal Emergency Relief Program and 36 of the musicians were compensated through the Federal Music Program.  In 1939, and going into the 10th season, the orchestra had reduced the number of musicians and the financial status was improving, but in 1940 Karl Weckerresigned to work with the Federal Music Program.

In the years that have followed they have had conductors that included Nicolai Malko, Rudolph Ganz, Robert Zeller, Theo Alcantara, Semyon Bychkov, John Varineau, Robert Bernhardt, Catherine Comet, who was the first woman to lead a professional regional orchestra, and their conductor laureate, David Lockington.

In 1976 the orchestra was officially given the title of “regional” orchestra with a budget of over $500,000.  This led to the Coffee Concerts and the Chamber Series which were added to their other programs that included Taproots which gave out-of-town concerts and Harmony which was an educational program for schools.  Later programs that were added were the Lollipop series, the Family series, Casual Classics and Access to Music which is an annual concert for people with special needs.

The orchestra has received two ASCAP awards and was the first orchestra in the state to receive the Governor’s Arts Award.  It continues in the mission of reaching as many people as possible and has toured Northern Michigan and the upper peninsula where there is not the opportunity to hear a professional orchestra.

They have made several recordings and have performed the musical works of American and women composers.  In 2003 they performed the world premiere of Hailstork’s Symphony No. 2, dedicated to David Lockington and the orchestra.  Two years later they celebrated their 75th Anniversary made it’s debut at Carnegie Hall.

Their recording of Invention & Alchemy won them a nomination for a Best Classical Crossover Album Grammy Award in 2006 and the DVD recording of it was broadcast on PBS-TV.

They became one of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) in 2013 and in 2015 their David Lockhart went from being their music director to become the orchestra’s first director laureate.  The new music director as of 2016 is Marcelo Lehninger.

Richard Addinsell recordings
Warsaw Concerto
Centaur CRC 2433 (CD: Piano Pops)
Conductor – John Varineau
Piano – Rich Ridenour