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Led by Courtney Lewis, Jacksonville Symphony opens season with 3 free concerts

By Charlie Patton, Jacksonville.com
September 26, 2015
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Photo by Eric Antoniou. Courtney Lewis, music director of the Jacksonville Symphony.
Courtney Lewis

Though he’s facing a busy year during which he will be both the full-time music director of the Jacksonville Symphony and an assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Courtney Lewis says he’s ready for the challenge of leading his own orchestra.

“It’s exciting to be beginning finally,” said Lewis, now a Jacksonville resident, having taken an apartment in Riverside.

He’ll be getting his first full year as music director started with seven concerts featuring two different programs in the next two weeks. He’ll conduct the first Masterworks concert of the season, featuring Holst’s “The Planets,” Oct. 9-11.

“I wanted to begin the season with something spectacular,” Lewis said in a recent interview about “The Planets,” a seven-movement orchestral suite in which each movement represents a planet in the solar system.

But first Lewis will be conducting the symphony in three free community concerts this week as well as the season’s first Coffee Concert, “Beethoven and More Coffee,” on Friday morning.

The first Masterworks concert, with “The Planets” as its centerpiece, will “celebrate the beginning of this new era” with a program that is “festive but meaty for the orchestra,” Lewis said.

The evening will begin with a contemporary composition, American composer John Adams’ “Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” first performed in 1986.

“It’s like a friend invites you to ride in a fast sport car and you wish you hadn’t said yes,” Lewis joked.

That will be followed by a dip into a more classical repertoire, with a symphony from 18th century composer Joseph Haydn. Lewis said Haydn’s Symphony No. 90 includes a wonderful musical joke, “really funny.”

Lewis will give a 20-minute pre-concert talk offering background on the music and composers one before each Masterworks concert.

Despite his remaining 20-week obligation to the New York Philharmonic, Lewis said he’s eager to establish a strong working relationship with the symphony.

“There’s been so much anticipation,” he said. “I’m just really excited about getting down to work. Now we’re going to be working together all the time. We’ll be so much more cohesive …

“The puzzle is coming into place. The goal is an orchestra that is vibrant and contemporary.”

The three concerts that will open the season this week feature three musical pieces: Smetena’s Vltava (The Moldau), Ligeti’s Romanian Concerto and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. Lewis will conduct the performances.

The first will be at 7 p.m. Thursday in the St. Augustine Amphitheatre, 1340C Florida A1A S. Tickets are not required; seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. Parking is available in the area for a fee.

At 8 p.m. Friday, the symphony will help inaugurate Unity Plaza, the outdoor amphitheater at 220 Riverside in Jacksonville. There are no tickets for the event and seating is also first come, first served.

Saturday’s performance will be at 8 p.m. in the Jacoby Symphony Hall in The Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts, 300 Water St. Admission is free but tickets are required. They are available at jaxsymphony.org, at the box office in the Times-Union Center or by calling (904) 354-5547. Doors will open at 6 p.m. There will be an instrument zoo, backstage tours, food trucks in the circle behind the Times-Union Center, bar service, dining seating in the Davis Gallery and photo opportunities.

The first Coffee Concert, which Lewis will conduct at 11 a.m. Friday, is not a free concert. It will feature Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

The season will feature several innovations.

The symphony has launched a young professionals group, UpTempo; there will be three Symphony in 60 programs consisting of an hour of music at 6 p.m. followed by an hour of socializing with orchestra members; Symphonic Night at the Movies will have the symphony accompanying the screening of movies such as “Back to the Future” and “E.T.”; and there will be several Sunday matinee performances of Masterworks and Pops concerts, beginning Oct. 11 with “The Planets.” Also the symphony will spend a week in residency in Clay County, with a concert performance at the Thrasher-Horne Center for the Arts at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21.

“We should be the orchestra for all of North Florida,” Lewis said.

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