One of Us

Courtney Lewis


Courtney Lewis has spent the past decade as music director of the Jacksonville Symphony, and he has seen it grow in both the talent on stage and its cultural place with the community. Growing up in Northern Ireland and working with symphonies around the world and the states, he believes the approach being taken is helping get the Jacksonville Symphony on the map among the best symphonies in the world.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

I grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland and went at 18 years old to study music at the University of Cambridge in England.

I was lucky that right out of college at 23 years old I got a job with the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, and my first substantial job was as assistant conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra.

Currently, I have served as the music director of the Jacksonville Symphony and April was 10 years in that role.

Has music always been a passion of yours and something you wanted to pursue?

Music has been my life for as long as I can remember.

I sang in the church choir as a young boy and then I had a wonderful high school music teacher who pushed me to pursue my love of music.

It has always been something that gives me great pleasure.

How have you seen the Jacksonville Symphony change in the decade you’ve been there?

There were 52 full-time musicians making up the orchestra when I was hired but not long after that we quickly increased to 60-plus.

Also, one of the things I am most proud of is that we worked on the contracts for our musicians and their pay increased by 30%.

That is huge because now we can go out and get the absolute best musicians that are out there.

I’ve approved about 40% of the orchestra members since I’ve been here and there is a lot that I look for during the audition process.

One of the important things I always consider is to make sure the symphony and our music is tailored to Jacksonville and that we are understanding of what the residents want.

We have gone about doing this by introducing more movies to music and incorporating a variety of both pop and classical musicians.

It took me a couple of years in my position to understand this, but now I believe we’ve really hit it on the head with the performances that we have.

What are your roles as music director?


As music director I’m in charge of fundraising and all of that as well as the music itself.

We come up with new music every week and I’m in charge of making sure everything flows.

I don’t think people quite understand the range of music and the approach a symphony can go with. It’s up to the director to decide how fast or slow the music will go at certain times throughout a performance.

I’m there to make sure everything goes as planned and that the musicians hit their spots. It can be quite the moving target.

What are your plans for the future of the Jacksonville Symphony?

Next year is our 75th anniversary and I’m really excited about what all we have planned.

We usually are looking two years down the road to plan but classical music is a complex thing and its always evolving.

My biggest goal next is to tell the world just how good the Jacksonville Symphony is, because each performance is a way for us to be ambassadors for the city and all that it has to offer.

We also have the largest music education program in northeast Florida from beginners to kids who go on to Juilliard (School).

I encourage readers to go to the orchestra and give it a try and I know you’ll love what you hear.

I feel that often people think of the orchestra as something their parents or grandparents would go to or that its for rich people. But it’s not that at all, because it’s for everyone to experience and enjoy.

What does the remainder of the current season look like?


We’ve got two more classical concerts coming up.

On May 17 and 18, concertmaster Adelya Nartadjieva takes the stage for Vaughn Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” and concludes with Walton’s First Symphony.

It will be an all-English composer night, so it will a chance to bring some sounds of myself, because although I was born in Northern Ireland, I was musically trained in England.

Our season will come to an end on June 7 and 8 with Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique which is a romantic love story.

What do you enjoy most about living in the North Florida area?

It has become my home as my fiancee and I live in Avondale and my financee even owns a small gym in the area.