Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra and Indigo Girls – really?

Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra and Indigo Girls – really?

Conductor search, interactive concerts and new programming this fall

Richard Pierpont

Richard Pierpont

Music is a powerful force. It can soothe the soul, rouse the masses or distill emotions. For the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, 2013 is proving to be transitional as the organization opens a search for new leadership, targets fresh audiences, and refining its role for the future.

By presenting fine music to the community, the Jacksonville Symphony adds texture to the artistic and cultural landscape of the city. It also plays an economic role. Performing scores of concerts in downtown Jacksonville from mid-September to mid-May, the Symphony is a large employer providing ripple effects into the city’s urban core.

In addition, the Symphony plays an educational role in the community. “We have extensive programs in the schools, and that’s something we intend to broaden,” said Martin Connor, Chair-Elect of the Symphony Board of Directors and San Jose resident. Although still in the preliminary stages, one example of JSO’s attempt to expand its reach is through a collaborative program between Symphony musicians and music majors from the University of North Florida. The two groups would work together teaching music in schools, Connor said.

In the past, the Symphony has had great success providing concerts such as Starry Nights in Metropolitan Park. Each Christmas, JSO corners the entertainment market by offering a variety of popular holiday concerts. The Orchestra also takes its music to the people by performing in neighborhoods around the Jacksonville area.

Martin Connor

Martin Connor

At the same time, Symphony leadership is aware their audiences are trending older and grayer, which could stem from the format of the concerts themselves. “My sense the way the music is presented is intimidating. There’s an elitism to it if you don’t know that you shouldn’t clap between movements,” shared Richard Pierpont, Chairman of the Jacksonville Symphony Board of Directors and Ortega resident.

“People want to be connected, and we’re not a connected type of event,” Pierpont added. Therein lies one multi-faceted challenge for the Jacksonville Symphony as the organization seeks to reach new audiences.

Other challenges range from perceptions of spending an evening in downtown Jacksonville to marketing a sedentary activity to a digital generation, but the Symphony is on the offensive examining programming options, offering more morning and afternoon concerts and seeking a new leader.
Since 1999, director and principal conductor, Fabio Mechetti, has led the Orchestra. This fall, the Symphony will open a search for a new conductor.

Beginning in October and continuing through April, JSO will perform eight concerts with eight guest conductors as part of the Florida Blue Masterworks Series. While there’s no guarantee that one of the guest conductors may be the next Symphony leader, the community will have an opportunity to offer input on each of them.

“They’re all young conductors. They all come with fresh eyes,” said David Pierson, President and CEO of the Symphony and Avondale resident. According to Pierson, programming is what sells concerts these days. He hopes the new JSO leader will find attractive ways to package concerts for today’s audiences.

David Pierson

David Pierson

The music of Gershwin, Brahms, Wagner, Stravinsky and others will be presented by the eight young conductors. Symphony leadership hopes the concerts will bring in new patrons as well as continue to build the perception of the Symphony as a relevant form of entertainment.
With a new leader will come new programming, and that’s the key. “We’re doing a special concert next year with the Indigo Girls, which certainly is not our typical demographic,” Pierson said.

Martin Connor lived in Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C. before moving to Jacksonville. He was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the music he heard at his first Symphony concert.

“This is a world-class orchestra, and Jacoby Hall is certainly a world-class venue,” Connor said.

By Nancy Lee Bethea
Resident Community News

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