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Grand Rapids Symphony and Chorus perform music that's 'unfinished, unanswered and incomplete' Friday and Saturday

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Marcelo Lehninger leads Grand Rapids Symphony and Chorus in Schubert's 'Unfinished' Symphony, Ives' 'Unanswered Question' and Mozart's 'Great' Mass in C minor that he never quite completed.
Grand Rapids Symphony chorus sings Mozart's 'Great' Mass in C minor, Nov. 16-17 in DeVos Hall.

Grand Rapids Symphony chorus sings Mozart's 'Great' Mass in C minor, Nov. 16-17 in DeVos Hall. /Terry Johnston | Grand Rapids Symphony

Coming next to the Grand Rapids Symphony stage

'Home Alone'

  • Full-length film with live music
  • 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 29
  • Tickets start at $32

Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops

  • Featuring Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus and Youth Chorus
  • Special guests bass-baritone Justin Hopkins, Embellish handbell ensemble
  • 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6
  • 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 7-8
  • 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 8-9
  • Tickets start at $18 adults, $5 students

Cirque de Noel

  • Featuring Cirque de la Symphonie
  • 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 19-20
  • Tickets start at $32

All shows in DeVos Performance Hall, 303 Monroe Ave. NW

For tickets call (616) 454-9451 or go online to



Music Director Marcelo Lehninger leads the orchestra in music that "unfinished, unanswered and incomplete."

Music Director Marcelo Lehninger leads the orchestra in music that "unfinished, unanswered and incomplete." /Terry Johnston | Grand Rapids Symphony

Bass-baritone Dashon Burton makes his Grand Rapids Symphony debut, Nov. 16-17 in DeVos Hall

Bass-baritone Dashon Burton makes his Grand Rapids Symphony debut, Nov. 16-17 in DeVos Hall /Courtesy photo

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart surely must have been in love with his wife. There’s little doubt he was afraid of his father.

One of the greatest prodigies in the history of music, Mozart spent his childhood traveling across Europe, performing for Kings and Queens and their highborn friends.

As he became an adult, he grew tired of his domineering father, slipped out of Salzburg, and headed for Vienna, determined to make a living as a freelance performer and composer.

He married a young soprano, Constanze Weber, without his father’s blessing. When it came time to return home with his new bride, Mozart composed his Mass in C minor to show off his wife’s accomplishments and in hopes of appeasing his father, Leopold.

Though the solo he composed for Constanze to sing is one of the craziest coloratura arias in the repertoire, it’s also among the most beautiful.

Pope Francis, head of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, in the first major, wide-ranging interview of his papacy in 2013, declared his admiration for the music of Mozart, especially his Mass in C minor.

“Among musicians, I love Mozart, of course,” he said. “The Et incarnates est from his Mass in C minor is matchless; it lifts you to God!”

Grand Rapids Symphony hopes to inspire its audiences as well when it presents Mozart’s Mass in C minor at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 16-17. Music Director Marcelo Lehninger leads the concerts in DeVos Performance Hall.

Tickets start at $18 adults and $5 students. Call (616) 454-9451 or go online to

Today, the Mass in C minor is known as the “Great” Mass because Mozart uses one of the biggest orchestral forces of his career. It’s also incomplete. To conform to the Roman Catholic liturgy of the day, the mass should have had several specific movements. Mozart completed the Kyrie and Gloria. Portions of the Credo weren’t finished. Some of the Sanctus and Benedictus were partially lost.

Mozart apparently never started the Agnus Dei. Not only was it incomplete at its premiere, Mozart apparently never returned to it to finish what he started.

“We don’t know why,” Lehninger said. “So there are some questions behind the premiere. Did he fill it with other pieces?”

The answer to that seems to be lost, though Lehninger will fill the rest of the concert in the Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series with two other pieces, Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony No. 8, and Charles Ives’ “The Unanswered Question.”

Guest soloists for Mozart’s “Great” Mass in C minor include mezzo soprano Susan Platts and tenor John Matthew Myers, both of whom joined the orchestra last season for Beethoven’s “Choral” Symphony No. 9 in May.

They’ll be joined by newcomers, soprano Martha Guth and bass baritone Dashon Burton, along with the 140-voice Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus in the piece that the orchestra and chorus last performed in April 2004 under Music Director Laureate David Lockington.

Schubert completed just two movements of his Symphony No. 8, which is why it was nicknamed “Unfinished.” It also could be called the “Discovered” Symphony. Years after Schubert’s death, the two movements of Schubert’s previously unknown work were discovered in a locked trunk of a friend.

Unlike Mozart, who died at age 35, and Schubert, who died at age 31, American composer Charles Ives lived a long and fruitful life. By day, he was a successful executive in the insurance business who composed nights and weekends.

The iconoclast American composer wrote The Unanswered Question while in his 30s, though her revised it some 25 years later. Though the work itself is complete, Ives used his music to contemplate the mysteries of life, the questions that cannot be answered.

A pre-concert conversation, “Inside the Music,” is held at 7 p.m. prior to each performance. A post-concert conversation, “Talkback,” follows each concert on Friday evenings only.

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