Opening week has arrived

Autumn is here and it’s with great excitement that we are beginning a new era at the Jacksonville Symphony. Last week I was in New York for the opening of the Philharmonic’s season. In a fortuitous coincidence, I assisted Alan Gilbert as he conducted Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, the same inexorable masterpiece with which we will showcase the Jacksonville Symphony this weekend in a series of free community concerts.

Razor shortage at David Geffen Hall. New York Philharmonic season opening: assistant conductor Joshua Gersen, music director Alan Gilbert, assistant conductor Courtney Lewis.
Razor shortage at David Geffen Hall. New York Philharmonic season opening: assistant conductor Joshua Gersen, music director Alan Gilbert, assistant conductor Courtney Lewis.

We start at the St Augustine Amphitheatre on Thursday night, move to the sleek new Unity Plaza at 220 Riverside Avenue on Friday, and open the doors of Jacoby Hall on Saturday. As part of the Year of the River celebration we’re beginning these concerts with Smetana’s impassioned hymn to one of Bohemia’s great rivers, the Vltava. The music begins at the river’s source – a bubbling stream – and follows its course through woods and meadows, alongside a country peasant wedding, under ruined castles as mermaids swim in the moonlight, before arriving with great grandeur in the city of Prague. En route, the river hits the St Johns rapids. I couldn’t resist.

We’ll also perform György Ligeti’s rabble-rousing Romanian Concerto. Written in 1954 in Hungary, this tour-de-force bristles with energy and showcases the gypsy-fiddling skills of our concertmaster, Philip Pan. I’m looking forward to seeing smoke rise from his bow!

All three concerts are absolutely free and a great way to check out the Symphony in a relaxed environment. Don’t miss them.

The following weekend is the moment we’ve all been working towards for the past eighteen months: the beginning of our first full season together. We’re rolling out the red carpet and throwing a grand celebration at Jacoby Hall over three nights: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, October 9, 10 and 11. The music is jubilant too, beginning with John Adam’s thrilling fanfare for orchestra, Short Ride in a Fast Machine. Written in 1986, Adam’s once compared the experience of the music to a white-knuckle car journey: “You know how it is when someone asks you to ride in a terrific sports car, and then you wish you hadn’t!” If you think you don’t like contemporary music, this irresistible piece might convert you.

We continue with Haydn’s Symphony No. 90. Ever the joker, Haydn loved to play tricks on his audience. I’m not going to give the game away but I can assure that his pranks work just as well today as they did in the 1700s, and this symphony contains some of his best.

Courtney Lewis hosts a new series of video program notes to each Masterworks concert. In this first introduction, he discusses John Adam’s A Short Ride in a Fast Machine, Haydn’s Symphony No. 90 and Gustav Holst’s suite, The Planets.

Gustav Holst began his gargantuan masterpiece, The Planets, weeks before the outbreak of the First World War. Fittingly it begins with a terrifying musical depiction of the planet Mars, “the bringer of war”, full of the clatter and violence of modern combat. Each of the following movements reflects the personified characteristics of planets in our solar system, ranging from the delicate peacefulness of Venus to the reassuring good spirits of Jupiter and the bumbling wizardy of Uranus. If you know the piece already, I’m sure you love it, and if you don’t, you might be surprised by how much of it you recognise. With the greatest number of musicians we will assemble on stage all season, including the mighty Bryan Concert Organ, an off-stage chorus, an alto flute, a bass oboe and six timpani, this is an event to remember. If you come early you can enjoy interactive presentations about the solar system in collaboration with the Museum of Science and History, and if you stay late you can enjoy a champagne reception with me and the musicians of the orchestra. It’s an exciting moment for Jacksonville, and I hope you’ll be a part of it.

Reprinted with kind permission of the Florida Times-Union.

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