Jacksonville Symphony to Perform at JFK Center

Jacksonville Symphony to Perform March 23-29 for the Festival of American Orchestras at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.  

The Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra joins an elite group of musicians chosen to perform as part of the 3rd annual SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras in Washington, D.C. The prestigious event held March 23-29 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts celebrates the identity and artistry of orchestras in our culture.

This year, SHIFT will also feature the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Jacksonville Symphony conductor Courtney Lewis is thrilled that the orchestra will have the opportunity to perform on a national stage. The group will share more than just music. The program will spotlight the outreach efforts of Composer in Residence Courtney Bryan in the community.

“It means a lot. It’s a very gratifying stamp of approval of the kind of programming that we’ve been doing in Jacksonville and the kind of community outreach and audience building that we’ve been involved in for the last five years,” says conductor Courtney Lewis. “It’s also so exciting for us to be traveling as an orchestra to a world-class concert venue in a big city like D.C., our capital, to show the musical world what the Jacksonville Symphony has been doing. It’s getting exciting now that we’re all beginning to really get ready and spend time with the music.”

Orchestra hopefuls are grouped depending on budget size, Lewis says. An estimated 60 orchestras nationwide were vying for a spot on the program which celebrates the classical orchestra as valuable cultural currency. The Jacksonville Symphony is the only orchestra in the second category performing at the festival. “We’re kind of representing our peers which is nice,” mused Lewis. “I’m really looking forward to some national recognition. What we haven’t seen yet is any kind of recognition outside of Jacksonville so I’m hopeful that we will be able to harness some interest outside of Jacksonville in what the symphony is doing.”

Participating orchestras will present programs featuring multi-genre collaborations including explorations of geography and community, interpretations of “bridges,” new takes on Shakespeare and more.

The diverse and immersive schedule also celebrates the impact of classical musicians in their communities. In Jacksonville, Bryan helped establish the 2019 engagement initiative entitled “Compose Yourself” which gives students the tools to frame their own classical composition around their own community.

“The overall theme of the event is to celebrate American orchestras particularly in regards to what they have been doing in their own communities,” Lewis says. “This program reflects the community outreach element where our composer in residence will be going into a school to teach kids how to write a piece of music based on their own neighborhood. That’s a reflection of what we’ve been doing at home. But also the whole concept of diversity that’s encapsulated in that concert program is something that we’ve been working very hard to do, to make the Jacksonville Symphony look more like all of Jacksonville in terms of our program.”

Among the selections is a recently discovered piece written about Jacksonville by jazz great Duke Ellington. According to Lewis, the music was discovered in the archives of the Jacksonville Public Library. The original charts were stored off site as a hurricane approached. As they were returned to their shelves, an observant librarian uncovered the material.

“The library was being cleared out in preparation for a hurricane in case the building flooded. In the course of being put back in again, he found this score,” marvels Lewis.

That chance discovery inspired Lewis to build a program to trace the influence of jazz in classical music while also exploring the ways the classical medium motivates jazz composers.

Ellington’s “Celebration” was written to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Jacksonville and hasn’t been performed since the ‘70s. “We couldn’t believe it when the librarian found that in the library. That’s what inspired me to think about presenting a program that would explore the influence of jazz musicians on classical musicians,” says Lewis. “The program has pieces written by jazz composers Duke Ellington and our composer in-residence Courtney Bryan. Two pieces written by jazz composers especially for the Jacksonville Symphony, one famous and one up and coming. And then the piece of classical music that is most influenced by jazz arguably is Copland’s Clarinet Concerto which was written for Benny Goodman. So, there’s an American classical composer being influenced by jazz.”

Lewis also selected two European classical influenced by jazz; “Metaboles” by French composer Dutlilleux and Symphony C written by Igor Stravinsky, widely considered the most important composer of the 20th century. “Both indebted to jazz musicians. The program is an interesting way of exploring how different kinds of music speak to each other and inspire each other,” he says. “Of Course, Duke Ellington and Courtney Bryan both jazz composers who were inspired by the symphony orchestra and wanted to write for the orchestra so we can see the influences going in both directions.”

Hosting such an event in the nation’s capital provides an opportunity for orchestras to interact with their respective elected officials and educate members of Congress on the significance of the performing arts. As in previous years, the League of American Orchestras will partner with SHIFT to facilitate engagements on Capitol Hill and spark conversations about the impact and value of orchestras have in their communities.

“I think it’s very important that it’s an uplifting inspiring event for the Jacksonville Symphony that we will have an opportunity to feel really good about what we’ve achieved and what we’re doing together. I think that is going to inspire everybody at home to do the best that we can in terms of the way that we perform, the music that we play. The last five years of the Jacksonville Symphony have been some really exciting, transformative years but they’ve also been really hard work and we’ve managed to achieve so much in our programming. Everything has been expanded greatly”

Upon return to Jacksonville, the Symphony Orchestra will continue to perform bold selections from the season’s schedule. Lewis is most looking forward to the pieces that will close out the season. On June 5-6, the orchestra will perform Ravel’s – La Valse, Adés – Tevot and Mahler’s – Symphony No. 1, “Titan.”

Says Lewis, “It’s going to be a really thrilling way for us to end the season. It’s an example of my attempt to [incorporate] the music of today into our program so people begin to know and love the music of our own time as well as that of the past.”


The following concerts are performed at the Robert E. Jacoby Symphony Hall at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts.

Get tickets and more information at jaxsymphony.org.

Feb 1 Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony 

Feb 8-9 Symphonic Night At The Movies Series: Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back 

Feb 14-15 Jacksonville Symphony’s Romantic Valentine 

Feb 21-22 Beethoven’s Mass In C 

Mar 1 Jsyo Spring Concert

Mar 7 2020 Symphony Gala

Mar 13-14 Give My Regards to Broadway

Mar 19-20 Copland & Ellington 

Mar 20-21 SHIFT: Kennedy Center Bound

Mar 29 Jso Family Series: Peter & The Wolf 

Apr 3-4 Copland’s Great American Symphony

Apr 17-18 Respect: Aretha 

Apr 24-25 Brahms Symphony No. 2

May 4 JSYO Festival Of Strings 

May 8 JSYO Major/Minor Concert 

May 15-16 Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto

May 22-23 Patriotic Pops

May 30-31 Symphonic Nights at the Movies: Jurassic Park

Jun 5-6 Mahler 1

Jun 12-13 Season Finale: Beethoven Ninth


Symphony in 60 Happy Hour Series

Grab some friends and co-workers and join the Symphony for happy hour and 60 minutes of symphonic music! The Symphony in 60 series continues with abbreviated concerts that are great for first-timers or for those who want to enjoy symphony concerts and still make it in time for dinner with friends. Happy hour begins at 5:30 PM and the concert starts at 6:30 PM.

Mar 19 Copland and Ellington

Apr 23 Brahms Symphony No. 2

May 14 The Great Schubert Symphony

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