GR Symphony Performs Schubert's GREAT

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GR Symphony Performs Schubert's GREAT

When Franz Schubert died at age 31, the sum total of all his worldly goods accumulated in his bohemian lifestyle included clothing, bedding and some books. The official legal inventory concluded, "No belongings of the deceased are to be found." The composer's manuscripts were in the hands of a friend who later gave them to Schubert's brother, Ferdinand. In the coming months, Ferdinand sold countless songs, chamber music and solo piano music to a publisher, but Schubert's larger orchestral works and operas gathered dust on a shelf.

Nearly nine years later, Robert Schumann, while in Vienna, visited Schubert's brother, who showed Schumann the accumulated manuscripts. The composer and editor of the prominent Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik, soon realized what lay before him, including a manuscript for a large Symphony in C Major that had never been published or performed.

Schumann sent the manuscript to his friend Felix Mendelssohn, another prominent musician who in 1829 had conducted a performance of J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion that would lead to the rediscovery of Bach's major works, then almost entirely unknown. Two years later, Mendelssohn did for Schubert what he had done for Bach. He conducted the first performance of what we now know as Schubert's Symphony No. 9, which soon acquired the nickname "The Great."

Marcelo Lehninger will lead the Grand Rapids Symphony in Schubert's Great at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, February 14-15, in DeVos Performance Hall.

The sixth concert of the 2019-20 Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series also features pianist Inon Barnatan performing Suspend for Piano and Orchestra by Grammy nominated composer and Grand Rapids native Andrew Norman. Guest artist sponsor is the Edith I. Blodgett Guest Artist Fund.

The concerts in DeVos Hall will open with Johannes Brahms' Tragic Overture.

During his short 31 years, Franz Schubert wrote songs that touched the soul, and symphonies that praised the heavens, most of which was not heard until after his death. A musical ensemble, the Vienna Musikverein, did tackle Schubert's great and noble Ninth Symphony, later nicknamed "Great" to distinguish it from Schubert's shorter Symphony No. 6 in C major. But the ensemble gave up because it was "too hard and long."

But its rhythmic vitality, its wealth of dance tunes, and its energetic finale - all on top of Schubert's marvelous melodies - soon added an additional layer of meaning to its nickname of the "Great" Symphony.

Composer Andrew Norman, who was born in Grand Rapids but raised in California after his family relocated there, has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Music and was Musical America's 2017 Composer of the Year. A recording of his 2016 composition titled Play was nominated for the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Classical Composition.

Composed for celebrated pianist Emanuel Ax, Suspend uses a pair of melodic fragments that are prominent in the music of Johannes Brahms. But what's most fascinating about the piece is that it sounds as if it's being made up on the spot. Beginning with a solitary, meandering musical thought, the pianist imagines an orchestra into existence to bring the work to life.

Grand Rapids Symphony previously performed Norman's "The Great Swiftness" for chamber orchestra. The 2010 composition was inspired by Alexander Calder's stabile "La Grande Vitesse," a symbol of the city, which is located on Vandenberg Plaza in downtown. Last year, the city of Grand Rapids celebrated the 50th anniversary of the installation of the orange/red sculpture, the first work of public art funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Inon Barnatan, an American-Israeli pianist, was the New York Philharmonic's first Artist-in-Association in 2014-15. Praised for his poetic sensibility, musical intelligence and consummate artistry, Barnatan was the recipient of a prestigious 2009 Avery Fisher Career Grant, and in 2015, he received Lincoln Center's Martin E. Segal Award, one that recognizes "young artists of exceptional accomplishment."

  • Inside the Music, a free, pre-concert, multi-media presentation sponsored by BDO USA, will be held before each performance at 7 p.m. in the DeVos Place Recital Hall.

The complete Schubert's Great will be rebroadcast on April 19, 2020, at 1 p.m. on Blue Lake Public Radio 88.9 FM or 90.3 FM.

Tickets for Schubert's Great start at $18, available by calling the GRS ticket office at (616) 454-9451 ext. 4. Phone orders will be charged a $3 per ticket handling fee ($18 maximum per order). There are no fees for tickets purchased in person at the GRS ticket office at 300 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 100, (located across the street from Calder Plaza). Ticket office hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Tickets are available at the DeVos Place box office, weekdays 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. or on the day of the concert beginning two hours prior to the performance. Tickets may be purchased online at

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