Marcelo Lehninger Appointed Artistic Director of the Bellingham Festival of Music

Photo of Marcelo Lehninger, new conductor of the Bellingham Festival of Music conducting the orchestra.
Photo of Marcelo Lehninger, new conductor of the Bellingham Festival of Music conducting the orchestra.
Photo of Marcelo Lehninger, new conductor of the Bellingham Festival of Music conducting the orchestra.
Photo of Marcelo Lehninger, new conductor of the Bellingham Festival of Music conducting the orchestra.

Brazilian-born Conductor Engaged after Three-Year Search Process
Unanimous Choice of All Festival Constituents
Five-year Term Takes Effect Immediately

For immediate release:

Bellingham, WA.—The Bellingham Festival of Music is thrilled to announce the appointment of Marcelo Lehninger, 43, as its new Artistic Director. He succeeds Michael Palmer, co-founder and Conductor Laureate, who led the Festival from 1993—2022. 

Brazilian-born and Music Director of the Grand Rapids (MI) Symphony, Lehninger made his Bellingham debut this summer in the Festival’s 30th season. He quickly captivated the orchestra players, Board of Directors, sponsors, and audiences with the depth of his artistry and the warmth and sincerity of his personality. His concert included an epic performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the dazzling violinist Blake Pouliot; “Hymn-2001,” a touchingly meditative work by Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov; and a vividly picturesque account of the Dvorak Eighth Symphony.

Lehninger’s appointment is the culmination of a three-year process by a Search Committee composed of four BFM Orchestra players, two board members, the Festival production manager, and retired physician and cellist Daniel Feller of Bellingham and Phoenix who chaired the committee.

Lehninger’s five-year tenure takes effect immediately, and he has already begun planning the 2024 season. Charged with overseeing all artistic aspects of the Festival in consultation with the Board and the BFM Artistic Committee, he will select Festival repertoire and guest artists, plan future seasons, audition/select musicians to fill vacancies in the orchestra and chorus, set the performance and rehearsal schedules, and collaborate on educational outreach and fundraising.  In his inaugural 2024 season, he will conduct all five of the orchestral concerts. Beginning in 2025, Conductor Laureate Michael Palmer is invited to lead one concert per year.

Lehninger, who states he is choosy in accepting conducting gigs, enthusiastically embraced the idea of directing the Festival. He praised the “superb” virtuoso orchestra, Bellingham’s beautiful natural surroundings, and the warm relationships between the musicians and their home hosts. These features reminded him of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s idyllic summer home at Tanglewood where he spent time while serving as the BSO’s Assistant and Associate Conductor.  “I always enjoyed those summers and being able to bring my family,” he said. “Even though there was a lot of work preparing three programs a week, there was always a barbeque somewhere and people getting together.” After he moved on from his Boston assignment, he “missed” that special collegial music-making.

Lehninger was the unanimous choice of all the Festival’s constituents—orchestra, Board of Directors, sponsors, and audiences—who had filled out detailed opinion surveys about each of the five guest conductors who appeared this summer.

Erika Block, BFM’s Executive Director and second clarinet in the orchestra, was jubilant in describing the “beautiful” chemistry that developed between conductor and players from the first minutes of the first rehearsal.

 “As soon as Marcelo stood on our podium for his first rehearsal, I think the whole orchestra could feel his warmth and sincerity,” said Christina Smith, Principal Flute of both the BFM and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. “He showed great confidence and direction, while also being genuinely inspiring, bringing the music to life. Marcelo’s concert was electrifying, and I am so excited about the future of BFM with him as our musical leader.” 


Marcelo Lehninger (pronounced Mar-SELLO LEN-een-gurr) was appointed Music Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony in 2016, and his appointment was recently extended through 2030. In 2018, he brought the orchestra to Carnegie Hall, its first performance at the famed venue in 13 years. He previously served as Music Director of the New West Symphony in Los Angeles, for which the League of American Orchestras awarded him the Helen H. Thompson Award for Emerging Music Directors. For five years, Marcelo served as Assistant and then Associate Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In that capacity, he substituted on several occasions for Music Director James Levine, including premiering on short notice a commissioned work by Harrison Birtwistle both in Boston and in New York’s Carnegie Hall.

Lehninger’s most recent and upcoming engagements include work with the Sarasota Orchestra, North Carolina and Tulsa Symphonies, and San Antonio Philharmonic; Peninsula Music Festival, Prague Philharmonia (Czech Republic), MAV Symphony (Hungary), and the Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra and Minas Gerais Philharmonic (Brazil).

As a guest conductor, Mr. Lehninger has led some of the leading orchestras in the United States, including the Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Houston, Detroit, Baltimore, Seattle symphonies; the Florida and Louisville Orchestras; and the Rochester, Orlando, New Mexico, and Colorado Springs Philharmonics. He made his Carnegie Hall debut in 2011 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
European engagements include the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Orchestre National de France, Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, Lucerne Symphony, regular visits to the Slovenian Philharmonic, including on tour to Vienna’s Konzerthaus, Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, and a tour with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra assisting Mariss Jansons.
Mr. Lehninger was Music Advisor of The Orchestra of the Americas for the 2007-08 season. In summer of 2008, he toured with the orchestra in South America, conducting concerts in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. He has led all of the top orchestras in Brazil, and served as Associate Conductor of the Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra, where he returns regularly as guest conductor.

He has served as Kurt Masur’s assistant with the Orchestre National de France (during their residency at the Musikverein in Vienna), Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, and the New York Philharmonic.

Before dedicating his career to conducting, Mr. 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.

A dual citizen of Brazil and Germany, Lehninger is the son of pianist Sônia Goulart and violinist Erich Lehninger. He is married to Laura Anne Krech and has two daughters.