Grand Rapids Symphony Will Play the Best of the Baroque - Bach, Handel and More

Article Pixel
Grand Rapids Symphony Will Play the Best of the Baroque - Bach, Handel and More

Johann Sebastian Bach, when he was appointed music director for the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen in 1717, had a pretty sweet gig. The pay was good, he had creative freedom, and his boss was an amateur musician.

Three years later, the prince's military excursions led to cuts in Bach's budget, the prince had married a woman who had no interest in music, and Bach knew his day were numbered. He dashed off a set of six concertos dedicated to Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg-Schwedt in hopes that the nobleman would take him on as Kapellmeister.

George Frederic Handel, in London in mid-18th century London was the go-to guy for music for a special occasion. His Water Music for King George I was a big hit. His Coronation Anthems for King George II rocked. When the British were ready to a big celebration to celebrate the end of the War of Austrian Succession, Handel was commissioned to do the soundtrack.

Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, composed 300 years ago, ended up in a closet and weren't even published until 1849. Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks, premiered in 1749, drew a ticket-buying audience of around 12,000 people, so big that the crowds shut down London Bridge for several hours.

Today, both are some of the best and best-loved musical works of the Baroque era, heard in such movies as Die Hard, Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion and Johnny English.

Grand Rapids Symphony's Holland Home Great Eras series continues with The Glory of the Baroque at 8 p.m. on Friday, January 31, in St. Cecilia Music Center, 24 Ransom Ave. NW.

Multi-GRAMMY-nominated conductor, composer, and keyboardist Julian Wachner, Artistic Director of the Grand Rapids Bach Festival, returns to West Michigan to lead the Grand Rapids Symphony in Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 plus Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks plus two works by French composers Rameau and Marais. All four composers were contemporaries flourishing in the first three decades of the 18th century.

Highlights of the evening concert will be given at 10 a.m. that morning for the Porter Hills Coffee Classic series, a one-hour program held without intermission. Doors open at 9 a.m. for complementary coffee and pastry.

Not only are Bach's Brandenburg Concertos and Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks staples of classical music radio, you regularly hear both on TV and in movies. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 can be heard in the 1988 film Die Hard starring Bruce Willis; the 1997 film Romy and Michele's High School Reunion with Mia Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow; Boxing Helena (1993) and Hannibal (2001) among other films.

Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks is featured in the soundtracks of the 2003 film Johnny English starring Rowan Atkinson; the 2001 movie The Affair of the Necklace with Hilary Swank; A Smile Like Yours (1997) and, less surprisingly, The Madness of King George (1994).

Julian Wachner, who led the 2019 Grand Rapids Bach Festival, will return in 2021 to lead the 13th annual biennial event founded in 1997 in Grand Rapids by Linn Maxwell Keller.

Named one of Musical America's Top 30 Professionals of 2019, serves as director of music at Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City, overseeing an annual season of hundreds of events at Trinity Church and nearby St. Paul's Chapel including Trinity's celebrated Bach + One series.

With one foot planted in the music of the present, Wachner leads Trinity's innovative improvised Compline by Candlelight, curates festivals including Time's Arrow, and serves as principal conductor of Trinity's resident contemporary music orchestra NOVUS NY. His 2019-20 season includes leading two fully-staged spring performances at Washington D.C.'s Kennedy Center of Ellen Reid's p r i s m, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Music. He also conducts 2017 Du Yun's Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Angel's Bone at the Beijing Music Festival, before leading the West Coast premiere at LA Opera in the spring.

With his other foot grounded in the music of the past, Wachner's 2019-20 season at Trinity Church includes the new "12 Nights Festival" with 16 concerts in 12 days including performances of Bach's complete Brandenburg Concertos, Handel's Deborah, a performance of Jean-Philippe Rameau's five-act opera Dardanus, and a complete cycle of Beethoven string quartets.

Besides the works of Bach and Handel, The Glory of the Baroque includes Jean-Philippe Rameau's Suite from Les Boréades, and Marin Marais' Chaconne from his opera Semele.

A form of French opera known as tragédie lyrique, Les Boréades was rehearsed at the Paris Opera in 1763, but it was abandoned and never was produced. A concert performance was given in 1770. Les Boréades was revived in 1964, but the five-act opera didn't receive a fully-staged performance until 1982.

Marais, a musician at the royal court at Versailles, composed Semele, which was produced at the Paris Opera in 1709.

The complete The Glory of the Baroque will be rebroadcast on April 12, 2020, at 1 p.m. on Blue Lake Public Radio 88.9 FM or 90.3 FM.


Tickets start at $26 for the Great Eras series and $16 for Coffee Classics, 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

Special Offers

Full-time students of any age can purchase tickets for $5 on day of the concert by enrolling in the GRS Student Tickets program, sponsored by Calvin University. Discounts also are available to members of MySymphony360, the Grand Rapids Symphony's organization for young professionals ages 21-35.

Students age 7-18 also are able to attend for free when accompanied by an adult. Free for Kids tickets must be purchased in advance at the GRS Ticket office. Up to two free tickets are available with the purchase of a regular-price adult ticket. Go online for more details.

Symphony Scorecard provides members up to four free tickets for most Grand Rapids Symphony concerts. Members of the community receiving financial assistance from the State of Michigan and members of the U.S. Armed Forces, whether on active or reserve duty or serving in the National Guard, are eligible. Go online for information on signing up with a Symphony Scorecard Partner Agency.

Related Articles View More Detroit Stories   Shows

More Hot Stories For You