Beethoven front and center in Symphony season

Courtney Lewis

After a summer guest conducting in Aspen and Minnesota, I’m back in Jacksonville and it’s time to get ready for our upcoming season. This year is a series of celebrations, as the Jacksonville Symphony turns 70, Ludwig van Beethoven reaches an ever-youthful 250, and we perform thrilling concerts not just at home, but also at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Beethoven changed the world. He brought every genre he touched to a new height of human expression, not least symphonic music. We’re placing him front and center, with performances of his Fifth, Sixth and Ninth Symphonies, the Violin Concerto with Stefan Jackiw, the Emperor Piano Concerto with Daniel Hsu and his Mass in C with the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus. There is no composer who presents a more universal or uplifting human message to listeners or a greater challenge to performers. I can’t wait to spend a whole season rediscovering these masterpieces with you.

The season kicks off with Fanfare! Opening Night on Sept. 28. I’m delighted to welcome Jacksonville-born pianist Marcus Roberts and his famous trio for a special performance of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” Join us on the red carpet to celebrate the rich musical culture grown right here in Jacksonville.

In March, the Symphony travels to D.C. to perform as part of SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras. Symphonies from all over the country applied to participate, and only four were chosen. We will bring our signature community engagement programs to the people of the capital, and perform a concert at the Kennedy Center that celebrates the diversity of music we’ve brought to you in Jacksonville over the past few years. Believe it or not, no less a giant than Duke Ellington composed a piece for us in the 1970s, entitled “Celebration.” Our concert will build on that legacy of collaboration between jazz and classical musicians, with works by Copland, Stravinsky, and our very own Mary Carr Patton Composer-in-Residence, Courtney Bryan. SHIFT is a little like the orchestra-world Super Bowl, and it’s a huge honor for us to represent our city and state at the national level. You can hear this concert right here in Jacksonville in March, the weekend before we set off to D.C.

We’re continuing our commitment to bring world-class artists to Jacksonville. Violinist James Ehnes will join us for Elgar’s concerto, while superstar mezzo-soprano Susan Graham headlines our annual Gala. I’m looking forward to hearing Natasha Paremski play Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto, and Nathan Aspinall returns to conduct Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances.”

You can expect to hear lots of the music you love along with a few exciting excursions into the unknown. Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto earned two standing ovations last season, and we’ll continue our exploration of his music with the Fourth Symphony. There’s also music from the center of the repertoire that hasn’t been heard in town for decades, including Sibelius’ crisp Sixth Symphony and the suite from Janáček’s beguiling opera “The Cunning Little Vixen.”

As we get ready to toast the Jacksonville Symphony’s rise to the national stage, I hope you’ll join us right here in downtown Jacksonville to discover what a treasure you have at home. It really is a season to celebrate.

By Courtney Lewis, Music Director of the Jacksonville Symphony