A postcard from Europe

A postcard from Europe.
Amsterdam.

I’m writing from Amsterdam, the third stop on the New York Philharmonic’s EUROPE/SPRING 2015 tour. So far we’ve visited Dublin and completed a residency at the Barbican in London. This week we’re playing in one of Europe’s most highly esteemed and acoustically perfect venues, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, a 2000-seat shoebox-shaped hall with a warm and generous sound that might remind you of somewhere closer to home…

The breathtaking interior or Amsterdam's Concertgebouw.
The breathtaking interior or Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw.

The London residency began with the Philharmonic’s music director, Alan Gilbert, addressing the Royal Philharmonic Society. His incisive speech outlined a vision of what an orchestra can and should be in the 21st century. Faithful readers will note many parallels with my own ambitions for the Jacksonville Symphony, especially concerning our role in the community, the meaningful presentation of new music and the need for collaboration with other arts organizations.

Alan also discussed the transformative effect several musical projects have had on the staff and musicians of the Philharmonic. The most recent of these is a staged production of Stravinsky’s ballet Pétrouchka, an enormous spectacle involving puppets, dancers and live video projections. On top of playing, the production requires the orchestral musicians to take part in divers and irreverent ways. At one moment the cameras zoom in on the percussion section surreptitiously slamming shots of vodka, while the tuba player furtively peers into a peep show booth. In a breath-taking display of chutzpah, the Philharmonic brought the whole production to London on Sunday night, to dazzling effect.

London, April 19, 2015, 4:10PM: The Shrovetide Fair is brought to life by New York Philharmonic musicians — including Associate Principal Viola and juggler extraordinaire Rebecca Young and Acting Concertmaster Sheryl Staples (left) — plus Giants Are Small puppeteers. Photo by Chris Lee
London, April 19, 2015, 4:10PM: The Shrovetide Fair is brought to life by New York Philharmonic musicians — including Associate Principal Viola and juggler extraordinaire Rebecca Young and Acting Concertmaster Sheryl Staples (left) — plus Giants Are Small puppeteers. Photo by Chris Lee.

A few weeks ago I was in Jacksonville for principal bassoon auditions (we have hired a fantastic musician who you can hear in May). With over 140 candidates, it had been a long few days of listening, and I wandered over to the downtown Thai restaurant Indochine for dinner. On my way back I couldn’t help but notice the huge number of people milling around, so I walked into Hemming Plaza. It took me a minute to remember that this was the opening night of OneSpark, so consumed was my mind by the memory of hearing the opening bassoon solo of Tchaikovsky 6 over and over again.

As any of you who were in Hemming Plaza that night know, the energy was extraordinary. The diversity and innovation on display were testament to the very special renaissance that Jacksonville is beginning to enjoy. Just as the Philharmonic channelled the unique restlessness of New York City into their production of Pétrouchka, we are launching the Jacksonville Symphony into the wider community and exploring new ways of presenting concerts to reflect and drive the energy of our extraordinary city.

Opening night of OneSpark 2015 with Abel Harding and Ryan Ali.
Opening night of OneSpark 2015 with Abel Harding and Ryan Ali.

Last month I wrote about these plans. Right now I’m looking forward to returning to Jacksonville to close this season. The program on May 14 and 15 is the first I’ve conducted that really reflects a new direction. We start with Haydn’s 92nd Symphony, the Oxford. This is one of Haydn’s greatest, full of the witty profundity that is so surprising and moving but often undervalued in the master’s music. Then on to Thomas Adès’s miraculous Three Studies from Couperin, composed in 2006, in which the composer rewrites three harpsichord pieces for a modern chamber orchestra. The effect is of hearing the elegant world of the French Baroque through a modern-day crystal ball. Adès is one of the most important composers of our time and we’ll be playing a lot more of his music, so I’d encourage you to come and enjoy this miniature masterpiece.

New York, March 2015: Conductor/composer Thomas Adès, Assistant Conductor Courtney Lewis, and baritone Mark Stone have a light-hearted moment before taking the stage for the dress rehearsal of Adès’s “Totentanz.” Photo by New York Philharmonic staff.

Finally we end with Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, one of the greatest works of the twentieth century, and a wonderful vehicle to demonstrate the virtuosity of our orchestra.

This program is what I want the Jacksonville Symphony to be all about: the classics, familiar or perhaps unknown (the orchestra has never performed Haydn 92), new music that I know you will love, and established masterpieces to move and delight. It’s with this repertoire, our new concert programs and an increased engagement with our community that we will build the orchestra of the 21st century in Jacksonville. See you at Jacoby Hall!

To listen to Courtney Lewis and Discovery Ensemble perform Haydn Symphony No. 92 and excerpts from Thomas Adès’s Three Studies from Couperin click on the links above.

Reproduced with kind permission from The Florida Times-Union.

2 thoughts on “A postcard from Europe”

  1. So thrilled that you’re coming back! Rei Hotoda was magnificent and the JSO and Johannes Moser both superb. Your choices for your return In May and for next year are enticing. We had stopped coming to concerts for a number of years after quite a long time as subscribers. Glad we came back this year and looking forward to next. Love your interactive blog.

  2. Dear Mr. Lewis,
    I truly enjoyed the symphony today. You are an extraordinary person. The world is a better place because of you.
    Thank you,
    Judith 🙂

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