Ticket to Ride: Beatles, Prokofiev close Jacksonville Symphony season

Conducting Electricity

Tony Nickle, Vice President & Artistic Administrator

The 2022/23 season at the Jacksonville Symphony has shown us the boundless possibilities of symphonic music by spanning a wide expanse of eras, genres and artistic icons. The Pops Series in particular has featured perhaps our most diverse concert experiences with programs ranging from Cirque de la Symphonie all the way to celebrations of legendary artists like Paul Simon, Duke Ellington, Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin. On June 2 and 3, the Pops Series wraps up its monumental season with Revolution: The Music of The Beatles.

Revolutionary is the perfect descriptor of the Fab Four; they “defined and incarnated ’60s style: smart, idealistic, playful, irreverent, eclectic … No group has so radically transformed the sound and significance of rock and roll” (Rolling Stone). Nearly six decades later, their timeless melodies are still heard and celebrated all around us.

The Jacksonville Symphony’s sensational tribute to The Beatles, led by Associate Conductor Grant O’Brien, spotlights award-winning vocalists Paul Loren, Colin Smith and Rick Brantley, along with their outstanding rhythm section and the Jacksonville Symphony. Audiences will be visually transported through decades of The Beatles with rare photographs projected on the big screen above the stage. Simultaneously, musicians will perform chart-toppers from across the band’s full history like “Hey Jude,” “Something,” “Penny Lane,” “Ticket to Ride” and so many others. What better way to hear the songs that changed the world as they are elevated to an entirely new level with a full rock band and the Symphony?

Following close behind in our 2022/23 season’s closing weekend, we welcome back Conrad Tao, one of today’s most exciting pianists. Tao is a rare musician who transcends genre, seemingly at home with Sergei Rachmaninoff and Sergei Prokofiev as he is with electronica. He’s also a composer and could play a mean violin if you asked. I’ve heard recordings of him playing several standards that made me feel like I was hearing them for the first time. The voice and soundworld he brings to any piece of music is completely unique and, most importantly, deeply honest.

Tao is joining Music Director Courtney Lewis and the Jacksonville Symphony for Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto, widely considered to be one of the most technically demanding concertos in the standard repertoire, sharing company with other juggernauts like Rachmaninoff’s Third or Johannes Brahms’ Second. Prokofiev himself was a world-class pianist and was arguably the most important composer to bring new technical approaches to the piano since Frédéric Chopin a century earlier. His demands fluctuate from lyrical beauty to percussive and pointy expressions. My piano teacher in undergrad used to say, “you can’t play Prokofiev if you’re always trying to sound pretty … sometimes you have to embrace an ugly sound.” There is no doubt that whatever approach Tao takes to the piece, it will be exhilarating.

After intermission, the season draws to a close with Dmitri Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony, a work the composer wrote to celebrate Josef Stalin’s death (and I mean celebrate, not honor). Shostakovich was the top composer in the Soviet Union under the Stalin regime during a time that the absolute mandate for all art was Socialist Realism. This was an aesthetic intended to glorify the working class and the state, not the “artifice of the aristocracy” nor the individual. Shostakovich composed earnestly within this aesthetic for much of his career, until an opera of his (Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District) was banned by the state publication Pravda for being too bourgeois, a sentiment in direct opposition to the values of the state. Shostakovich was deeply offended, and thereafter began to write subtly subversive music (notably his Fifth Symphony with its ironic finale). When Stalin passed in 1953, Shostakovich wrote a symphonic celebration, his mighty Tenth, expressing both unbridled joy at the sunset of a suffocating regime and the optimism for a better, less restrictive future.

Embracing the revolutionary music of Prokofiev, Shostakovich and The Beatles, which inspired change for future generations, we are reminded that music is a transformative force that reflects and shapes our world at large. In these performances, we get to experience their artistic freedom come alive on the stage, delivered by the groundbreaking talent of the Jacksonville Symphony.