His first two seasons as music director of the Jacksonville Symphony represented “a lot of institutional change,” says Courtney Lewis.


During those first two seasons, Robert Massey was hired as president & CEO of the symphony.

Nine veteran musicians, including concert master Philip Pan, accepted buyout packages last year and retired. A series of violinists will get two-week auditions during the upcoming season as the Symphony looks for a new concertmaster, Lewis said.

Nathan Aspinall was added as associate conductor and Deanna Tham was hired as assistant conductor and principal conductor of the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestras.

Aspinall’s was a new position. Tham was hired after the contract of Scott Gregg, principal conductor of the youth orchestras for more than two decades, was not renewed. Tham was given additional duties as assistant conductor.

The Symphony and the musicians reached an agreement on a new five-year contract that raised salaries, increased the core orchestra to 60 positions and lengthened the season from 35 to 38 weeks.

The number of Masterworks concerts, featuring classical music, increased from 10 to 12. This year, a 13th classical concert is being added, an opening Fanfare concert. Scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 16, it will feature Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 7” and violinist Charlie Siem, with whom Lewis attended college. It’s planned as a formal event, with Lewis, who normally conducts in white tie, wearing a black tie.

That concert is the first in what Lewis characterized as a season marked by a “meaty repertoire.” That repertoire will include Sibelius’ “Symphony No. 5” in September, Bruckner’s “Symphony No. 7” in April and Wagner’s “Gotterdammerung” closing the season in June. The season will also feature an appearance by soprano Renee Fleming at the Jan. 20, 2018 Symphony Gala, with Lewis conducting.

Lewis took an extended vacation this summer, spending six weeks in Barcelona, Madrid and New York City. He returned to Jacksonville at the end of July to recorded nine video clips, each about nine minutes long, that will be posted to jaxsymphony.org. In each, he talks about the music in the nine concerts he will conduct the Symphony this year, the opening Fanfare concert and eight Masterworks concerts.

Tham recorded video clips about the four Masterworks concerts being conducted by guest conductors, one of whom will be former Jacksonville Symphony music director Fabio Machetti.

After recording the videos, Lewis headed to England where he planned to conduct some concerts for the BBC. He said he’ll return to Jacksonville late this month and begin preparing himself for the upcoming season, sitting at the piano in his Avondale home and learning the music he will be conducting by playing it.

“Jacksonville is my favorite place to learn the music,” he said. “My house is quiet.”

Charlie Patton: (904) 359-4413