Grand Rapids Symphony names music director


Marcelo Lehninger. Courtesy Grand Rapids Symphony

After a three-year search, the Grand Rapids Symphony named its new music director this morning.

Brazilian-born conductor Marcelo Lehninger has been selected to serve in the position.

The Grand Rapids Symphony Board of Directors voted to offer Lehninger a five-year contract as music director. The contract is effective July 1 and runs through the 2020-21 season.

Lehninger will be the 14th music director to lead the Grand Rapids Symphony, or GRS, which is celebrating its 86th season.

Lehninger’s background

Lehninger recently concluded his final season as music director of the New West Symphony Orchestra in Los Angeles.

During his four years with the orchestra, Lehninger was awarded the Helen M. Thompson Award for an Emerging Music Director in 2014 by the League of American Orchestras.

Beginning in 2010, Lehninger spent five seasons with the Boston Symphony Orchestra as assistant conductor and then as associate conductor.

During the 2007-08 season, Lehninger served as music advisor to the Youth Orchestra of the Americas, or YOA, composed of 120 talented musicians from more than 20 countries throughout the Americas, with Plácido Domingo as artistic advisor.

In the summer of 2008, Lehninger toured with YOA and pianist Nelson Freire in South America, conducting concerts in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.

An alum of the National Conducting Institute, he made a successful debut with the National Symphony Orchestra in 2007 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Before dedicating his career to conducting, Lehninger studied violin and piano.

He holds a master's degree from the Conductors Institute at New York's Bard College, where he studied conducting under Harold Farberman and composition with Laurence Wallach.

His mentors also include Leonard Slatkin and Roberto Tibiriçá.

Grand Rapids visits

Lehninger will be recognizable to some Grand Rapids symphony-goers. He has led the GRS twice in the past two seasons as part of the search process.

His performances led to unanimous support from the 14-member search committee.

The search committee recalled his “electrifying” performance of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony No. 9” last February and his “explosive” performance of Respighi’s “Pines of Rome” this April.

“In each case, it was an expression of magic and passion that reached new heights,” said Mary Tuuk, co-chair of the search committee. “Afterward, he talked about how, in his mind, every single experience on stage had to be special and passionate for everyone, as if they had never experienced it before.”


As music director, Lehninger will be in charge of all artistic matters for GRS, which operates its 40-week season on a budget of $9 million.

Planning concerts, choosing repertoire, selecting guest artists and auditioning musicians to fill vacancies within the orchestra will be among his duties.

GRS said Lehniger will also be expected to play a role in audience development, outreach, fundraising and collaboration beyond the concert hall.

Lehninger said he’s excited to begin work with the Grand Rapids Symphony.

“This city is very lucky to have such a fantastic orchestra, led by a dynamic staff and dedicated board,” he said. “My family and I can’t wait to become a part of this beautiful community.”

Kate Pew Wolters, chairperson, GRS board, said the "whole board looks forward to working with Marcelo in the next five years.

Pew Wolters said she's particularly eager to see his influence on the implementation of the symphony's recently adopted strategic plan.

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