This spring, the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra began a new era with the announcement that Courtney Lewis would be its music director. Originally from Northern Ireland, Lewis has traveled the U.S. conducting an impressive list of orchestras and is excited to soon call Jacksonville his new home. We recently caught up with Lewis, who will conduct his first concert as Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra music director September 26 – 27.
Welcome to Downtown Jacksonville! What are your first impressions?
It’s exciting to see the energy in Downtown Jacksonville. I really enjoyed meeting a lot of the leaders of Downtown’s renewal in May. I hope the Symphony will play key role in drawing more people Downtown each week.
Why do you think symphonic/orchestra music is important to urban environments?
Going to a concert is a great way to spend an evening. We already attract many people who wouldn’t otherwise come Downtown. From September, we will be implementing new offerings to get more young people to the orchestra. Having world-class classical music at the heart of the urban environment provides a focus for an evening Downtown. I’m really looking forward to exploring ways of greater collaboration between the orchestra and Downtown businesses and ventures.
Why did you want to be music director for the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, specifically?
It’s a fantastic orchestra in a spectacular hall. As a city, Jacksonville is on the cusp of something great, and the orchestra is poised to be a major leader in that growth. I loved working with the musicians and felt great support from community leaders. The potential is huge, and I’m thrilled to be a part of taking the orchestra to the next level.
While most know a music director conducts concerts, what other duties are music directors responsible for? Are there any duties unique to your Jacksonville role?
The music director is also involved in planning the season, auditioning new musicians and working with the Board. In my case, I will be helping design new concert series to attract new audiences and increase community engagement. I’m also looking forward to introducing pieces of music the orchestra hasn’t played before. It’s a role that also has a leadership role outside Jacoby Hall in the community.
What do you hope to accomplish for the Symphony in your first few seasons here?
Musically, I want to diversify the orchestra’s repertoire. The musicians are hungry for this. I want the JSO to be seen as a leader among regional orchestras in the U.S. I want to attract new audiences of all ages to the orchestra. But I shouldn’t be the youngest person in the hall, so we will be setting up a young professionals group to reach out to my peers, too! We are planning a broader range of concert experiences at Jacoby Hall, so that you will be able to come to concerts at different times of the day and of different lengths and styles. And we are working on playing in venues other than the hall, both in Jacksonville and beyond.
For locals who have yet to experience the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, why should they?
You have one of the great orchestras in your backyard. I believe classical music is the most potent of the performing arts; it can take you anywhere and convey just about every conceivable emotional state. We are dying to share our passion with you, and I promise, if you come once, you’ll be back!