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Music director Courtney Lewis chats with people on the stage at the after-party as part of the Symphony in 60 program.
Jax Daily Record Friday, Jan. 6, 201712:00 PM EST

Jacksonville Symphony in 60 building new audience for organization

by: Fran Ruchalski Contributing Writer

Young budding violinist Tim d’Esterhazy saw his first symphony performance Thursday night.

He loved the music and his mother, Kris, loved the format.

The two attended the Symphony in 60, where an hour-long performance is book-ended by two social events.

After the Jacksonville Symphony concert, 7-year-old Tim and others got to go on stage in Jacoby Symphony Hall and mingle with the musicians.

Plus, Tim got a chance to stand on the conductor’s rostrum and pretend he was directing the symphony.

The symphony began the Thursday night events last season, shortly after music director Courtney Lewis arrived. He had run similar events when he was associate director of the Minnesota Orchestra.

The target audience isn’t necessarily youngsters like Tim.

It’s Downtown workers and others who don’t typically attend a full performance of the symphony. Based on last season’s success, the symphony increased the hour-long Thursday night performances to four this season.

The evening has a more casual air, starting off with a happy hour where the attendees enjoy beverages and hors d’oeuvres at 5:30 p.m. The hour-long performance follows at 6:30 p.m.

The evening concludes with an after-party where members of the audience can meet and talk with the musicians. Tickets are $25.

And audiences are responding. More than 600 were sold for Thursday’s event.

Simon Kar regularly attends symphony performances, but this was his first Symphony in 60.

“This is quite the deal,” he said.

Having the event on Thursday nights also appeals to Kar, who said he was sure he will be back.

It was Kevin Davis’ fourth Symphony in 60 and he’s also a regular at the usual symphony performances. “It’s a different kind of experience than the regular concerts,” he said.

For some, the evening was their first exposure to the symphony.

While Liz Morgan is a fan of the symphony and all the excitement Lewis has brought to the city, she sheepishly admits she’d never been able to take in a performance before this one.

Her excitement bubbled over when she talked about getting to meet Lewis at the after-party.

Kris d’Esterhazy feels the format of these concerts is perfect for exposing children to symphonic music.

“Two and a half hours for a regular concert is a bit too much for young children, but an hour is perfect,” she said.

While d’Esterhazy and her family were visiting the area from New York, she made it a point for them to take in this performance.

She also enjoyed the more laid- back feel of the evening.

As a prelude to the full performance of the Sibelius symphony, Lewis and the symphony broke down the music into small pieces and the conductor explained to the audience how it all comes together.

“You don’t get that in a regular performance,” d’Esterhazy said.

For some, the after-party is a real draw.

According to Amy Rankin, the symphony’s director of public relations, “The musicians really enjoy it because it makes them feel like rock stars.”

Anthony and Gemma Conway came to the concert from Ocala.  They’d been to the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts for different shows, but this was their first symphony performance in the venue.

While Conway loved the whole concept of the program, he was ecstatic he got to meet the featured guest performer.

“I can’t believe I got to talk to him on stage and even take a selfie with him. One of the premier musicians in the country.  Where else can you get to do that?” he asked with a smile.

For those who’d that kind of opportunity, or the chance to get a selfie with Lewis, or to experience the symphony in a more relaxed atmosphere, there are three more opportunities this season.

Symphony in 60 performances will be Feb. 2, March 2 and April 27.

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