A Massive Hope for the Future: Elgar’s First Symphony

Courtney Lewis

Next weekend we perform a masterpiece that is among those closest to my heart, Edward Elgar’s First Symphony. Its premiere in 1908 was probably the greatest success of Elgar’s career. His best friend and publisher, August Jaeger, described the scene at the first London performance: “I never in all my experience saw the like. The hall was packed…the atmosphere was electric…after … Read More

A Letter from London (and Nielsen 4)

Courtney Lewis

Yesterday I arrived in damp and blustery London, which, despite the gloom and ghastly weather is full of the irrepressible cheer of Christmastime. There is something about dusk descending at 4 pm – or even of being soaked by the spray of a passing double-decker bus whilst walking to a carol service – that makes the Yuletide spirit all the … Read More

Concert Weeks are Jam-Packed!

Courtney Lewis

When newcomers attend the Symphony they often ask me, “How many weeks ago did you start rehearsing for the concert?” The answer usually elicits a look of astonishment, especially if the performance is on a Thursday: “We started on Tuesday morning!” A Masterworks concert is preceded by four or five rehearsals, all within a single week. The musicians’ schedules are … Read More

White-Hot Conviction Propels Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony

Courtney Lewis

Last year I made the decision to take a break from conducting over the summer of 2017. The previous few seasons had been exhausting as I flew constantly back and forth between New York, Jacksonville and other cities. A conductor’s primary task is to inspire orchestras and I was aware that the well from which such inspiration is drawn was … Read More

Jumping Off a Cliff – The First Time with a Masterpiece

Courtney Lewis

Last week we ended the Jacksonville Symphony’s Masterworks series with three performances of Mahler’s soul-stirring Second Symphony. It was a thrilling way to end an ambitious season. Throughout the week’s rehearsals, I was inspired by just how much fun the musicians were having playing this great music: at his best Mahler seems to understand exactly what it means to be … Read More

Musical Chairs: Why Orchestras Sit the Way They Do

Courtney Lewis

One of the questions I’m asked most often is why the string sections of the Jacksonville Symphony sometimes change where they sit between pieces in a concert. Loyal symphony goers will remember that when I arrived in Jacksonville, we adopted two new positions for the string instruments. Your previous music director, Fabio Mechetti, preferred the common arrangement of first violins, … Read More

An Exciting Season Awaits Symphony Fans

Courtney Lewis

This week, we announced the Jacksonville Symphony’s 2017-18 season, and you may have read about the new five-year contract signed with our musicians earlier this month. We’re increasing musicians’ salaries to levels that match our peers, adding six full-time musicians to the orchestra, and increasing the orchestra’s season from 35 to 38 weeks. Last season, we increased our classical weekends … Read More

Sibelius 7 and What’s Difficult in Music

Courtney Lewis

I’ve spent the last few weeks visiting friends and family in New York, London, Salzburg and Belfast. It’s been wonderful catching up with their news, and also sharing mine, much of which has been about what we’ve been doing in Jacksonville. Invariably, everyone asks what the first concert of the New Year is. It’s a program that looks quite straightforward … Read More

Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel

Courtney Lewis

I’ve been in New York for the past week, auditioning singers for an opera and conducting at the Juilliard School. The city is gearing up for the holidays, with enticing displays appearing in the grand shop fronts of Fifth Avenue, and a sickly stream of canned musak beginning to percolate every public space. Thankfully our musical offerings at the Jacksonville … Read More

Elgar and “The Dream of Gerontius”

Courtney Lewis

The season is underway, and we’re getting ready for a weekend of concerts that feature a piece especially close to my heart. I doubt many of you know it since it’s rarely played outside the British Isles, yet it contains music that offers some of the concert hall’s deepest spiritual experiences. I’d like to spend this column telling you a … Read More