Jacksonville Symphony to debut new music

Courtney Lewis, Conducting Electricity

Courtney Lewis, Music Director of the Jacksonville Symphony  

 Fall is upon us, and at the Jacksonville Symphony, we’re gearing up for our first classical concert of the new season on September 29 and 30. The program opens with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Overture to Leonore No. 2, one of the first examples of a tone poem in music in which Beethoven tells the story of his opera, “Fidelio,” in miniature. We end the concert with Robert Schumann’s glorious Second Symphony, one of my favorite pieces. We hear Schumann wrestling with his own psychological demons before his eventual triumph. In between those two masterpieces, we’re presenting a world premiere by the American composer Lowell Liebermann: his Organ Concerto, Op. 141, which will be performed by Paul Jacobs on Jacoby Symphony Hall’s mighty Bryan Concert Organ. The premiere is sponsored by Brenda and Gene Wolchok; I am so deeply grateful to the Wolchoks for their commitment to the creation of new music. 

 Few concert halls in North America have as fine an organ as we do here in Jacksonville. Its story is fascinating. Originally known as the Casavant Opus 553, the organ was built in 1914 for the First Baptist Church of Syracuse, New York. When the church moved to a smaller location in the 1980s, the organ was disassembled and put into storage where it languished for years. Once Jacoby Symphony Hall was completed in 1995, the Symphony Board went on a search for the perfect instrument for our brand-new concert hall. Word reached them about a fantastic organ that remained in pieces, and they transported it to Jacksonville where it was rebuilt and installed by Quimby Pipe Organs, Inc. The rebuilding took three years. The instrument has 97 ranks, 80 stops, 6,215 pipes and weighs nearly 20 tons. In February 2005, it was officially named the Bryan Concert Organ as a dedication to the Bryan family and their long commitment to the Jacksonville Symphony. 

 With such a great instrument at our command, I’m always looking for ways to feature the concert organ. The problem is that there isn’t a whole lot of music for organ and orchestra. So, we decided to commission a concerto. We chose composer Lowell Liebermann not just for his skill but because he is an artist who writes unashamedly for the audience. His new concerto shows off the incredible power and expressive range of our organ, but it’s also a piece that I know you will love on first hearing.  

 As you know, I love new music, and I’ve featured it a lot on our programs over the past few years. But why is it that conductors and professional musicians so often love the new while some audiences dislike it and may avoid concerts that feature it? What is it about new music that is so challenging? If you’re an audience member who wants to be more comfortable with the new, what should you do to get acquainted? With these questions in mind, we’re holding a discussion on Wednesday, September 27, entitled “Breaking the Barriers to New Music.” Hosted by Associate Conductor Kevin Fitzgerald, Assistant Conductor Grant O’Brien, composer Lowell Liebermann and me, the conversation will focus on three key aspects of music: rhythm, harmony and orchestration. These are elements that modern composers use in different ways from classical composers. Through discussion and musical examples, we will share insights and personal experiences to help dispel your fears, allowing you to hear what is magical and exciting in modern music. We’re really looking forward to sharing some inspirational music with you, so I hope you’ll join us on the 27th. More information is available at jaxsymphony.org.  

 Unbelievably, this is my ninth season as Music Director of the Jacksonville Symphony. One of the best parts of my job is working on the classical programming, helping decide what we will play for you and thinking about which pieces go best together to give you the most inspirational experience. We spend a lot of time trying to get it right, not just for any audience, but especially for you, our beloved Jacksonville audience. Of all nine seasons, the programming on this year’s classical concerts is my favorite–it really has something for everyone. So, get your tickets now; we can’t wait to share our discoveries with you!