The Rapidian

'Greatest Symphony of All Time' concludes Grand Rapids Symphony's 2016-17 season

A 2016 poll of world-famous conductors for BBC Music Magazine picked Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony to top its list of 20 All-Time Greatest Symphonies
Guest conductor Larry Rachleff, who served as Grand Rapids Symphony's Music Advisor for two seasons, returns to DeVos Hall.

Guest conductor Larry Rachleff, who served as Grand Rapids Symphony's Music Advisor for two seasons, returns to DeVos Hall. /Terry Johnston | Grand Rapids Symphony

Underwriting support from:

Grand Rapids Symphony and Beethoven's 'Eroica' Symphony

8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 19-20,

DeVos Performance Hall, 303 Monroe Ave. NW

Tickets start at $18 adults, $5 students

Call (616) 454-9451 ext. 4 or go online to grsymphony.org

Australian soprano Susan Lorette Dunn is guest soloist with the Grand Rapids Symphony on May 19-20, 2017

Australian soprano Susan Lorette Dunn is guest soloist with the Grand Rapids Symphony on May 19-20, 2017 /Courtesy photo

Grand Rapids Symphony's gives the final concerts of its 2016-17 Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series this week.

Grand Rapids Symphony's gives the final concerts of its 2016-17 Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series this week. /Terry Johnston | Grand Rapids Symphony

Classical music fans, naturally, have their favorite pieces of music. So do musicians and conductors.

When BBC Music Magazine last year invited world famous conductors to pick the very best symphonies ever composed, the field of 151 working conductors picked well-known works by Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Mahler and others.

Topping their list of the Top 20 All-Time Greatest Symphonies is Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony No. 3.

British conductor Jonathan Nott, music director of the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, said Beethoven’s Third Symphony breaks boundaries.

“This symphony is not about the glory of God, it’s about humans – our struggles, challenges and victories,” Nott told BBC Magazine. “Later, composers became preoccupied with life’s depressions and bitterness, but I never get that in Beethoven. You come away having experienced the power and joy of being alive.”

Beethoven’s “Heroic” Symphony closes the Grand Rapids Symphony’s 2016-17 season on Friday and Saturday.

Guest conductor Larry Rachleff, music director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic, will lead the final concerts of the 2016-17 Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series at 8 p.m., May 19-20, in DeVos Performance Hall.

Of the untold number of works ever composed for symphony orchestra, only a small portion lives on beyond the lives of their composers. An even smaller handful enters the ranks of great works of art.

And very, very few are ground-breaking, seminal works of art that alter the course of musical history. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, which led the way from the elegant 18th century music of Haydn and Mozart to the stormy and dramatic music of the 19th century Romantic Era, is one.

Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, which shattered the conventions of 19th century harmony and opened the door to vast range of music that would come in the 20th century, is another.

Both are on the program led by Rachleff, who served as Grand Rapids Symphony’s Music Advisor for two seasons between the departure of former Music Director David Lockington in 2015 and the recent arrival of new Music Director Marcelo Lehninger.

Tickets start at $18 and only $5 for students. Tickets are available by calling the Grand Rapids Symphony ticket office at (616) 454-9451 ext. 4 or by going online to GRSymphony.org.

Participants in the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Symphony Scorecard or Free for Families programs are eligible to receive free tickets.

Joining Rachleff is his wife, Australian soprano Susan Lorette Dunn, who will sing selections from French composer Joseph Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne.

Beethoven’s “Heroic” Symphony, premiered in 1805 in Vienna, opens with two mighty chords, announcing that music would never been the same again.

Beethoven intended to nickname his Third Symphony “Bonaparte,” for Napoleon Bonaparte, the French general he admired. After Napoleon declared himself Emperor in 1804, Beethoven revoked his dedication and renamed it, “Sinfonia Eroica to celebrate the memory of a great man.”

In contrast to the bittersweet symphonic work of Beethoven, Grand Rapids Symphony will perform Debussy’s, sensual, evocative Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune on the first half of the program.

Though no more than 10 minutes long, the revolutionary work that opens with a languorous flute solo is truly original in form, musical vocabulary, and execution. Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, inspired by a poem of the same name by Stéphane Mallarmé, isn’t concerned with melodic and harmonic development so much as with instrumental color that unfolds with exotic turns of phrase to paint a picture of a dreamy landscape.

Joseph Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne is a set of folk songs collected from the Auvergne region of France, set in the local language known as Occitan.

Composed between 1923 and 1930, the songs for soprano and orchestra transform folk music into high art.

Songs that will be sung include Malurous qu'o uno fenno, a playful bourée exploring the dilemma whether it is better to be in love or out of love; Lo fiolaire is a sensuous tribute to a beautiful girl, spinning at her wheel, complete with the sounds of her wheel in the refrain; and Lou coucut, a song about a noisy cuckoo.

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help supports its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.

Browse