Grand Rapids Symphony has audience on the edge of their seats with guest soloist, conductor

Marcelo Lehninger

By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk

The premier of Antonin Dvorak's "New World" Symphony in 1893 was an epic event.

One of the world's greatest composers of classical music, certainly the greatest to actually live here, would debut his Ninth Symphony, which he composed in the United States. The muscular symphony's debut was big deal in 1893 in New York City. A good performance of the familiar work that Americans like to claim as their own still is an event.

Guest conductor Marcello Lehninger made it an even bigger deal with the Grand Rapids Symphony on Friday in DeVos Performance Hall.

With guest violinist Philippe Quint, Lehninger had the audience on the edge of their seats on several occasions with electrifying moments that would linger long after the music ended.

Lehninger is one of the potential candidates to become the next music director of the Grand Rapids Symphony following the departure of David Lockington at the end of the season. That adds to the importance of these events.

The music director of the New West Symphony Orchestra in Los Angeles is a full-body conductor who pokes at the sky, who sweeps his arms across every inch of his personal space, and who waltzes on the podium. Lehninger uses his baton to good effect. When it gets in his way, he simply passes it over to his left hand and conducts with the fingers of his right. You see switch hitters in baseball. Seldom do you see one in a concert hall.

Granted, the Brazilian-born musician had the wind at his back with the Dvorak. Audiences love the piece, and musicians know it like the back of their hands. It was the only work on the program that the entire orchestra played. The winds and brass came out on stage, raring to go. Nonetheless Lehninger led the performance, balancing flow with fireworks, shaping phrases, pushing for the softest softs and the loudest louds. The Grand Rapids Symphony played like a well-oiled, finely tuned machine, and Lehninger chose to operate that machine at its upper limits. Friday's audience was pleased.

Read the full review here.