GRS returns to the Dogwood
By Ken DeLaat
After a one year pandemic-driven sabbatical from their annual trek to the Near North the Grand Rapids Symphony made a triumphant return to the Dogwood Main Stage with an epic performance led by their uber-talented guest conductor Nicholas Hersh.
With an appreciative audience tuned in with rapt attention Hersh led the talented trove of gifted musicians through an intriguing selection of pieces highlighted by a tribute to health care workers.
Beginning with the Overture from The Creatures of Prometheus the symphony set the stage for the evening, capturing the crowd with its vigorous take on the Beethoven piece. Conductor Hersh is a dynamic and spirited director of sound and his podium presence seems to energize the musicians he faced on this night.
The Suite No.1 from Carmen proved to put on display the versatility of the GRS with a number of memorable moments featuring some powerful solo work.
Then came the salute.
Hersh told the story of how the selection 7 O’Clock Shout came to be, relating the tribute to the outpouring of appreciation residents of New York City delivered each night during the height of the pandemic. For weeks folks opened their windows at 7pm to produce a cacophony of noise by shouting, clapping and banging together pots and pans. All to honor their health care workers who were putting their lives on the line every day.
And on Thursday the GRS shared a lively version of the Valerie Coleman composition inspired by those heartfelt expressions of admiration and followed it up with a collective shout from the musicians, the conductor and several from the audience.
Meanwhile in the background a series of photos ran across the screen featuring the staff of SHGM a fitting recognition of the dedication shown by our own health care worker during trying times.
Following intermission we learned about the origins of Charleston, and while the tune is familiar to any who have seen a 1920’s dance scene from an old movie the version provided by the orchestra put on display the deep roots of early jazz composer James P Johnson brought to the table. As Conductor Hersh related in his intro, the sound was “Gershwin before Gershwin.”
The finale gave us the suite from The Firebird, a Stravinsky ballet based on an old Russian fairy tale. Hersh gave a synopsis of the story and the symphony followed with a dramatic, soulful and uplifting musical telling of the classic battle between good v. evil.
The GRS and Conductor Hersh received a well deserved and rather raucous standing ovation from the crowd at concert’s end in appreciation for once again being treated to the world class musical experience that is the Grand Rapids Symphony.
And should you ever get the opportunity to see Mr. Hersh take to the podium, do yourself a favor and snare a seat. His work with the baton and his obvious appreciation for the talent around him translates exceptionally well to his audience.
Kudos to the GRS and the Dogwood staff for bringing this early Easter gift to the community and also to the Fremont Area Community Foundation for their support of this most welcoming musical encounter.
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