Review: GR Symphony, Lehninger offers perfect ‘Pictures’, alluring Barber adagio

Marcelo Lehninger, the musical director of the Grand Rapids Symphony, on stage from a previous concert. (Supplied)

By K.D. Norris


60-second Review


Grand Rapids Symphony, March 3, at DeVos Performance Hall, Grand Rapids, Mi.


First, of course, Maurice Ravel’s orchestration of “Pictures at an Exhibition” was suburb with Marcelo Lehninger conducting the Grand Rapids Symphony. But then I am biased, owning three recordings of the work: Mussorgsky’s initial, almost haunting piano solo; Ravel’s lush full symphony orchestration; and even Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s mesmerizing progressive-rock, synthesizer-driven version.


Stefan Jackiw (supplied; Sophie Zhai)

But the highlights of Lehninger’s final concert of the 2016-17 season, for me, may have been discovery of the guest soloist Stefan Jackiw on violin, who was brilliant both as musical and showman, as well as the conductor leading the symphony string section in an offering of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.


This being my first time seeing Lehninger leading the symphony, he more than lived up to his billing as a fiery young lion with baton in hand — a reputation he gained with the Boston Symphony, among others, and now brings to West Michigan as musical director.


Jackiw, too, demanded being center of attention on Erich Korngold’s Concerto for Violin in D Major, not only due to his shining guest soloist work but for his being an almost emotional force of nature. He is young, modern in style and artistic expression, and in the words of modern music, he and his violin shreds. His solo encore of the Largo from Bach’s Unaccompanied Violin Sonata in C was just musical icing on the evening’s cake.


Despite the age of the compositions presented at this concert, youth was served.


May I have more, please?


Lehninger prefaced the performance of Barber’s adagio by saying, from the stage, that it may be “the most melancholy and sad piece ever written” but adding that it was also “such a special piece.” And special it was. Given the dominating of much anticipated big, bold sections of Korngold’s concerto and “Pictures”, the haunting and, indeed, very sad Barber piece was a welcome introduction to a great evening.


Of course, I am also a fan of Barber’s works in general and, again, admit a bias.


Also, the Brazilian-born Lehninger hinted at the musical world of is home country he will bring to Grand Rapids next season when he will lead the orchestra in several pieces by Brazil’s best-known composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos, including Momoprecóce featuring Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire.


Can’t wait.