The Grand Rapids Symphony’s BRAVO! Awards return


GVL / Jonathan Lantiegne

Mary Racette, Associate Editor

A night of celebration, performance and honor will be held Wednesday, Sept. 15 at the DeVos Performance Hall. The Grand Rapids Symphony will be performing the work of American composer George Gershwin. 

“The Idea of BRAVO! is to honor organizations or people in our community that have gone above and beyond to really make the arts flourish as well as give back to those who are less fortunate,” said Vice President of Development of the Grand Rapids Symphony Michael Naess.

ASM Global is one of the organizations that will receive the honor of the BRAVO! Award. They are the company that manages the DeVos Performing Hall and they have helped the symphony with production, booking and other responsibilities that have to do with the building. 

The Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/ Arena Authority (CAA) is the other organization that will be receiving a BRAVO! Award. This is the board that administers DeVos Performance Hall among other West Michigan facilities. 

“When you get a BRAVO! Award it is because you have gone above and beyond to do something for the community and both of those organizations have allowed us to keep performing,” Naess said. 

In addition to the BRAVO! Award, one community member will be receiving the Nancy and Ray Loeschner Outstanding Volunteer Leadership Award. The Loeschner’s were influential people to the Grand Rapids Symphony and were dedicated to giving back to the community by their generous donations and frequent volunteering at a range of local organizations. This award is given to someone in the community who has shown similar energy towards bettering their community through acts of service.

Suellen Bandyk is the 2021 Nancy and Ray Loeschner Outstanding Volunteer Leadership Award recipient. For the last 50 years, Bandyk has been actively volunteering and donating to the West Michigan community. Among her many acts of community service, she has housed and fed musicians and volunteered at the Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital Gift Shop, West Michigan Vaccine Clinic at DeVos Place and the Grand Rapids Friends of the Opera.

Awards will be presented in between pieces. Every piece performed by the Grand Rapids Symphony will be the work of Gershwin. The brain behind this choice is Music Director Marcelo Lehninger.

“He knew that Gershwin would be the way to unite humanity and to kick off the season,” Naess said.

Gershwin was chosen because he explored the sounds and melodies of other cultures and integrated them into his music more than many other composers of his time. His music represents inclusion and progress as he embraced diversity.

“Gershwin was really the American crusader who decided to mix jazz with classical,” Naess said. “He would go into all sorts of communities and listen to the music of different cultures and he would put the melodies and tunes into his music.”  

The boisterous and brassy “Cuban Overture” will start off the night. This piece was written during his time in Cuba as he observes the unique sounds of his surroundings. 

Next, they will perform “Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture.” “Porgy and Bess” is an Opera written by Gershwin which reveals some of the struggles endured by racism. 

“There have been serious problems with racism and equality and we felt it necessary to really put this on stage as a message that humanity can move past that, especially during a pandemic,” Naess said.

The night of music will be wrapped up with “Rhapsody in Blue.” Gershwin wrote this piece on an old train from New York City to Boston. As a result, this piece is very percussive with several jumps in volume. The way in which this piece embraces many cultures in its sound reflects Gershwin’s approach to composing throughout his career. 

Pianist Stewart Goodyear will be playing on “Rhapsody in Blue.” Naess said he shines on fusion pieces such as this. 

Proof of vaccination will be required at the event. Naess said they will follow CDC advice and guidelines based on what experts believe is the safest choice. 

Tickets can be purchased from a range of $18 to $89. Cheaper tickers are being offered as a way to remind the community that the symphony is not an exclusive event only for the elite. They strive to make the symphony more accessible to the community, including college students.