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Grand Rapids Symphony's INVENTION & ALCHEMY Premieres Nationally July 10 And Internationally July 11 On YouTube


Grand Rapids Symphony's INVENTION & ALCHEMY Premieres Nationally July 10 And Internationally July 11 On YouTube

The first time the "Wild Woman of the Harp" strutted onto the Grand Rapids Symphony's stage, the audience was electrified.

Dressed in cowboy boots and a short leather mini skirt, long hair ribbons of maroon and turquoise streaming down her back, strapped into an electric harp, Deborah Henson-Conant had yet to play a note. But already the Grand Rapids Symphony and its audience knew something very special was about to happen.

Within a few years, Henson-Conant and the orchestra had recorded Invention & Alchemy, a compact disc and DVD that led the Grand Rapids Symphony to a Grammy nomination and national recognition for the TV special widely seen on PBS TV.

The Boston-based harpist, once described as the "love child of Andre Previn and Lucille Ball," is back with the Grand Rapids Symphony for the virtual online premiere of Invention & Alchemy. The original 97-minute DVD, recorded live in DeVos Performance Hall, will premiere at 7 p.m. Friday, July 10, on YouTube, available only on an RSVP basis. Click here to RSVP for the fund-raising benefit for the Grand Rapids Symphony.

An encore premiere follows on Saturday, July 11 at 2 p.m. ET in the United States and internationally at 7 p.m. in the United Kingdom.

Streaming on demand will be available July 12-17 on YouTube. Go online and RSVP for access to the July 10 premiere and receive access to behind-the-scenes videos and online events.

Invention & Alchemy features original songs and stories by Henson-Conant, performed with conductor David Lockington leading the Grand Rapids Symphony, in a wide variety of musical genres.

"It was a fantasy of mine. I literally had a dream," Henson-Conant recalled. "I dreamed I shrunk down and strapped on a harp and played it in front of a symphony orchestra."

The DVD was recorded live in November 2005 in DeVos Performance Hall.

"When we started this project, we knew what we wanted to do, and then we had a list of dreams," Henson-Conant said. "One was a PBS TV special and another was a Grammy nomination."

In 2006, Invention & Alchemy became one of five CDs nominated in the category of Best Classical Crossover Album for the 49th annual Grammy Awards in February 2007.

"It was just so thrilling to be here and to have this project nominated," Henson-Conant told The Grand Rapids Press in February 2007. "Just to get here has been amazing."

But beginning a few weeks later, Invention & Alchemy was seen throughout the United States as a one-hour TV special. Over the next two year, it was seen on more than 70 PBS-TV stations from coast to coast.

"I got to do something that almost no composer-performer ever gets to do, which is to bring their work alive at that level of professionalism," Henson-Conant said. "The level at which PBS was able to take it exactly as we created it and broadcast it all over the United States."

Several Grand Rapids Symphony musicians and former musicians are featured soloists in the show, and the entire orchestra gets into the act for a costumed, sci-fi, mini-drama titled "Danger Zone."

With Associate Conductor John Varineau on the podium, Lockington on cello joins Henson-Conant for a mesmerizing dialogue titled "996," which Henson-Conant describes as the night that Scheherazade, from the classic story "A Thousand and One Nights," finally melts the heart of the Sultan.

Grand Rapids philanthropist Peter Wege, who died in July 2014, was the primary underwriter of the $500,000 project. Henson-Conant was introduced to the former Steelcase, Inc., executive following her first performance in Grand Rapids.

Peter Said to me, 'What I saw out there on stage, I want the whole world to see,'" Henson-Conant recalled.

"I tell the story from the stage, often, that meeting Peter was my Cinderella story," Henson-Conant said. "Part of what I loved about the project was that I felt it was something Peter and I were doing together. That as philanthropist and artist, we were bringing something to the world that alone neither of us could bring."

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