Steven B. Libman, President and CEO of the Jacksonville Symphony
As we approach the end of 2022, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the successes and triumphs the Jacksonville Symphony has achieved over the last twelve months. Before I begin the journey of describing these important milestones, it’s crucial to recognize upfront that these accomplishments were only possible because the Symphony team–the staff, board and musicians–all worked in harmony to create a better Jacksonville Symphony for the First Coast community. Then again, there is another crucial element to our success– you–our patrons, and please know how deeply grateful we are for your continued and essential support.
Let’s begin with our ticket sales. For the past twelve months, our ticket sales have been robust as members of the community continue to return to attendance in person. With physical distancing and mask mandates dramatically reduced or eliminated, the public has returned to experience the joy of the arts in person. Nothing can replace the transformative experience of enjoying a performance when you are surrounded by hundreds of people who share your passion for the arts. Although our ticket sales have not returned to pre-pandemic levels (very few, if any, arts organizations in America have returned to pre-pandemic sales), we continue to grow each year.
We have also made great strides in the area known as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). The Jacksonville Symphony received a very prestigious grant from the League of American Orchestras’ Catalyst Fund that is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation from New York City. In addition, we received a grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund in support of our DEI initiatives. The Symphony also formed a strong partnership with the Sphinx Organization out of Detroit. Founded in 1997, Sphinx is a non-profit organization dedicated to “transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts” by providing performance opportunities for young musicians of color. Over the last 25 years, they have provided over $10M in scholarships and grants and have an alumni roster of over 1,000 young artists. I am very proud that we have developed opportunities for five Sphinx fellows for our 2022/23 season, and two of them will be with us for our entire season. Stay tuned for ongoing news as we expand our intersection with this nationally renowned organization.
Our 2022/23 season opened with two wonderful, free-to-the-community Concerts sponsored by Haskell. This has now become an annual tradition as we welcome our musicians back from their summer break and invite the community to join us as we open a new season. This year, there were over 3,000 patrons who attended, many of whom experienced the orchestra for the first time!
Thanks to Hurricane Ian, we had to cancel our first Florida Blue Classical concert of the season and have since moved it to March 10 and 11, 2023. The three classical concerts that we have presented thus far represent the perfect reflection of Music Director Courtney Lewis’ ability to inspire great performances from our musicians coupled with the following outstanding guest artists: pianist Alessio Bax, conductor Nathan Aspinall and violinist Timothy Chooi. I am also very proud of the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus and our growing partnership with the University of North Florida Chorale and Chamber Singers.
We have also presented two incredible Pops concerts thus far, including a tribute to Paul Simon, the world premiere of the symphonic version of the iconic movie “Rocky,” the first of three Organ concerts, the first of five Symphony in 60 concerts and a family concert. And we are just getting started!
I would be remiss if I did not spend a moment writing about all the Symphony activities that take place in December. In addition to two classical concerts, we present 15 other concerts including Holiday Pops, Coffee Pops, the First Coast Nutcracker (including two sold out school concerts for Nutcracker), Handel’s Messiah and our Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestras Holiday Concert. In total, over 21,000 patrons will experience the joy of music and dance in the month of December thanks to the Jacksonville Symphony.
The next six months will bring even more great symphonic music to the community. Between January and June, we will present Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s beloved opera “The Magic Flute” and 49 additional concerts. There are so many wonderful opportunities to enjoy the Jacksonville Symphony.
Jacksonville is growing and thriving, attracting businesses from around the nation and the globe. It is heartening to hear that businesses make the decision to relocate here because Jacksonville has a world-class orchestra that offers a variety of entertainment options. Of course, they also make this decision because of everything else the First Coast has to offer including an outstanding medical community, wonderful universities and colleges and access to some of the finest beaches in America. Jacksonville is in the “major leagues” in terms of first-class cities, and first-class cities do have world class orchestras, and we are deeply honored that the community and our business and civic leaders recognize that.
I am so very proud of everything we accomplished in 2022, and I look forward to a very exciting year ahead. On behalf of the Jacksonville Symphony family, I look forward to seeing you on this exciting journey with us.