Massey, Lewis partnership builds big new season, even bigger future for Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra

Jacksonville Daily Record

By Marilyn Young

In their short time together, Robert Massey and Courtney Lewis have been in lockstep about how to grow the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, on stage and off.
That is clear as they talk about the orchestra’s 2016-17 season, announced this morning.

More challenging music, stronger guest artists and conductors and restructured ticket packages for a longer season are among the highlights.

Massey became president and CEO in January 2015.

Lewis was named music director the year before, but didn’t assume the role full-time until the 2015-16 season.

Some of the changes for next season are built on those made for the current one.

There will be four “Symphony in 60” concerts, which are hour-long 6 p.m. weekday shows followed by drinks and hors d’oeuvres with Lewis.

And the orchestra will perform five Masterworks Series Sunday matinees, an option successfully resurrected last year with better packaging and promotion.

Massey said the Masterworks Series will increase from 10 to 12 shows, featuring works from Mozart, Brahms and Tchaikovsky.

The Pop Series goes from eight performances to 12, with shows ranging from The Eagles to Ella Fitzgerald to the Second City comedy show.

The series also includes three films with the orchestra, including “West Side Story” and “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony.”

An opera returns to the lineup, as well.

Massey, 46, said he was introduced to classical music as a kid through Bugs Bunny cartoons.

They’re timeless, he said, unlike today’s cartoons his 10-year-old daughter watches. “I don’t know where they come from,” he said, with a laugh.

Another change this year is patrons can buy different packages, based on which performances and how many they want to see.

Making someone sign up for an entire season has “been out of date for 40 years,” Lewis said.

He said letting people pick their shows “means every single concert has to be a satisfying three-course meal.”

Lewis said the season will feature works new to Jacksonville and some that haven’t been played here for years. That includes Mahler’s Second Symphony, which is the Masterworks finale May 19-21.

He’s also excited about the caliber of guest conductors and artists for the season, including Inon Barnatan, an Israeli pianist who performs during the Masterworks opener Sept. 30-Oct. 2.

Both Lewis and Massey praised how well the orchestra is playing.

“I hear them improving every time I come back,” said Lewis, who also is assistant conductor with the New York Philharmonic and frequently serves as a conductor. “It’s lovely for me to come back to the orchestra when I’ve been somewhere else.”

Massey said the musicians have always been talented, but they sound different under Lewis.

“What he pulls out of our phenomenal players is incredible,” Massey said. “It’s magic every time he is on the podium.”

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