Jacksonville Symphony’s music director, Courtney Lewis, has made a name for himself as one of the most dynamic orchestral conductors of his generation. His approach to symphonic programming reaches across all socio-economic groups, making great music accessible to all. He has a commitment to new music and has worked with and commissioned many of the leading composers of today. He has been called “a passionate opera conductor” and will demonstrate it when he conducts his favorite Mozart opera, “The Magic Flute,” in 2023. He has appeared with many high-profile orchestras, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Vancouver Symphony and the RTE National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland. From 2008 to 2014, he served as the music director of Boston’s Discovery Ensemble.
What does a music director do?
I conduct most of the classical concerts. I choose the repertoire that we play, with the staff. I’m in charge of hiring new musicians. And I’m in charge of basically being the artistic leadership of the symphony.
You’re a musician yourself. What do you play?
I play the piano and the clarinet, but not clarinet so much anymore. Just piano these days.
Tell me a little about your career path. How did you get to where you are today?
I was an Episcopal chorister growing up, so lots of music. When I was in high school, I played in bands and orchestras and all the rest of it. And then I continued in university and started to conduct at that time. Went to grad school for conducting.
And then I got a job in Boston when I was 23 with the Boston Philharmonic – right out of college – and moved to the States. Then, I went kind of job to job after that.
Where are you from originally?
I’m from Belfast, which is in Northern Ireland.
How long have you lived in the Jacksonville area?
Six years now.
What do you like best about living here on the First Coast?
I love how much people support the orchestra. I love the weather. I like the ease of living every day. I love the neighborhood I live in. I live in Avondale, and I’m very fond of it. So, yeah, quality of life and the orchestra and the weather. And I have great friends here, as well.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Cook, read, travel, weightlift – that’s pretty much it. Music all the time, obviously. Music, music, music, music.
I know COVID had an impact on performances during the past couple of seasons. With this coming season, what are you looking forward to?
Well, I think COVID’s pretty much gone now in terms of how we think about concerts. And we’re back to normal, full-scale programming. So that is great.
I’m really looking forward to this opening weekend [performed Sept. 30 and Oct. 1], with “Petrushka” by Stravinsky, one of his famous ballets from 1911. And the opera. That’s always a massive thing. So, when we do “The Magic Flute” in April. That’s going to be great.