As the venerable Jacksonville Symphony edges closer to its 75th year of operation, the future is looking brighter than ever for Northeast Florida’s premier cultural institution. With dozens of concerts and other events scheduled for the 2023-2024 season, not only is there something for everyone this year, there are actually several things for everyone.
The season is already underway, so let’s take a quick survey of what will be on offer through the early part of 2024.
The season began with a programme of Beethoven and Schumann during the last weekend of September. Those shows also saw the debut of an organ concerto written by Lowell Liebermann, the latest in a series of new works freshly commissioned for the Jacksonville Symphony. There will be another such premiere, later in the season, featuring Courtney Bryan.
As always, the symphony season is stacked with staples of the classical canon: Bach, Brahms, Handel, Mahler, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, etc. But the symphony has made it part of their brand to reach out far beyond that, to draw in new audiences and people who may not normally consider themselves hardcore fans of classical music.
Of course, it wouldn’t be the Jacksonville Symphony if they didn’t have all kinds of guest stars visiting throughout the season. The David M. Hicks Piano Series brings Simone Dinnerstein playing Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 on October 20 and 21, Joyce Yang playing Tchaikovsky and Samuel Barber on December 1 and 2, and the return of Conrad Tao (who we interviewed in 2021) bringing in the new year with Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 4 on January 5 and 6. All of that sounds fantastic.
The orchestra’s profile has grown tremendously in the near-decade that Courtney Lewis has been its Music Director. At the same time, Lewis’s own profile has grown within conducting circles, as has that of Kevin Fitzgerald, now in his 2nd season as Associate Conductor. That shine is also reflected on the guest conductors leading the symphony in this season: Jeannette Sorrell on January 26 and 27, Anna Rakitina on February 16 and 17 and Jonathon Heyward on April 26 and 27.
Meanwhile, the Symphony In 60 Series has become one of their most popular offerings since it was introduced three seasons ago, allowing people to sample the orchestra in a more relaxed, informal setting. There are four planned for this season, starting on October 26, with the rest coming on January 18, February 29 and May 23.
- Checkout our interactive live music calendar for all the best shows in and around Jacksonville
Another recent addition is the Jazz Series, introduced last season and presented on Sunday afternoons (read our preview from May 2022). The sets are curated by James Jenkins, the Principal Tuba for the orchestra, who does double duty as the director of the Jacksonville Jazz Collective. There are three concerts, starting on November 19, with the other shows happening on January 21 and May 5. That last show is of special interest to hardcore jazz fans, as it will feature the legendary trumpeter Terence Blanchard and the Turtle Island Quartet, has led the way in adapting jazz to the strictures of strong quartet since its founding in 1985. Sunday afternoons are also set aside for a couple of Concerts for Kids, on October 15 and May 12.
One of the most popular aspects of every symphony season has been their showings of classic films, which are always augmented by the orchestra performing the score. After September’s performance of ET, the symphony takes on Home Alone on November 17 and 18, and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince on March 15 and 16.
The Berg Choral Terrace will also be available for individuals and groups to view Symphony shows from arguably the best seats in the house, directly behind the bandstand, looking out toward the audience. It’s a great section if you want to feel like part of the show, which in some ways you would be. It’s highly visible, so great for clout-chasing, and it also lets you see the conductor’s face and get intimate views of the musicians from behind the scenes (and I don’t mean that in a weird way).
Longtime fans of the orchestra will be pleased to hear that the 2023-2024 season will find the musicians being better-paid than ever before, with their 60 full-time musicians having just signed a new contract, taking them through 2028. From a $12.5 million annual budget, the orchestra generates an economic impact estimated at $15.2 million by the Arts & Economic Prosperity Calculator by Americans for the Arts. Ninety percent of that budget stays in Northeast Florida, and the same can be said of the group itself.
“Most of our musicians live in Duval County, pay taxes, own property, send their children to schools and spend their salaries locally,” says Steven Libman, President and CEO of the Jacksonville Symphony. “As the largest cultural organization in Northeast Florida, it’s important that we as an organization contribute to the overall vibrancy and economic vitality of the Jacksonville community.”
The Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra is showcased five times in the 2023-2024 season, which also happens to be their 30th: November 12, December 11, February 25, April 29 and May 8. Founded in 1993, the JYSO’s six-tier orchestra program supports some 230 young musicians, aged 7-21, every year. It’s one of the many organizations that have helped Northeast Florida build as strong a reputation for its music education as its built for amateur sports. Tickets are only $5 for kids and $10 for adults, which makes these shows ideal for any types of classrooms, youth groups or big family hangouts. The final show of their season, “Major/Minor” (May 8) features the JYSO playing side by side with the Jacksonville Symphony itself, and it will include a solo debut by the winner of the JYSO Young Artists Competition.
The 2023-2024 Jacksonville Symphony season is underway. For a full list of upcoming performances, visit jaxsymphony.org. You can also find all Jacksonville Symphony performances, as well as a full list of concerts happening in and around Jacksonville on JME’s live music calendar by visiting jaxmusic.org/calendar.