The Conversation: Steven Libman

Steven Libman

President and CEO, Jacksonville Symphony

Photograph by laird

What were your initial impressions upon moving here and beginning your leadership of the Jacksonville Symphony?

My initial impressions were that Jacksonville is quite a remarkable community to have supported the Jacksonville Symphony for so long, and that the depth and breadth of support was clearly reflective of a community that views the symphony as the crown jewel of the cultural landscape. Having attended several concerts as part of the interview process, I was also aware of how incredibly talented the orchestra is, how fortunate we are to have Courtney Lewis as our music director, and how supportive the board of directors are.

Your most recent leadership role was with the Atlanta Ballet. Aside from the particularities of the art forms, what differences exist between a professional ballet company and a symphony orchestra?

That’s a great question. There are enormous similarities and also differences. Of course the Atlanta Ballet has a company of professional dancers and the Jacksonville Symphony has musicians. Both are considered full time employees. Many people may not realize that all major professional ballet companies also have an orchestra. Some of the major differences are that the art of ballet, like theatre, also uses set, costume and lighting designers, and all ballet companies have extensive full time costume shops and set construction facilities; clearly orchestras do not have that. The rehearsal and performance process is also different. Dancers will spend three to eight weeks rehearsing a dance piece before it’s ready for presentation, while the orchestral rehearsal period is shorter than that, though many musicians can also practice at home. The other common factor is that music is at the heart of ballet, and many of the most famous composers in the symphonic world also created compositions for the ballet world, including Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Stravinsky and even Aaron Copland.

Have you always had a passion for the arts?

Yes. I was very fortunate to be raised by parents who loved the arts, and the public high school I went to in Rhode Island had a theatre program larger than many university theatre programs. I love visiting museums, and have always had a deep passion for theatre, dance, jazz, and classical music.

What nourishes your creative spirit?

Well, I am not an artist, but I have a very strong aesthetic. What nourishes my creative spirit is knowing that I am part of a team that is bringing the joy and beauty of live music to the Jacksonville community. And, as we look to the future, we are also going to commission original music for the orchestra. I believe deeply that we have a responsibility to breathe life into the artistic repertoire and to provide opportunities for artists to create original work that might someday become a part of the repertoire played by orchestras around the world.

With the cancellation of this year’s SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras, to which the Jacksonville Symphony had the honor of being invited, what is the next exciting thing on the calendar?

First I want to emphasize how terribly sad and disappointed our entire organization was when the SHIFT festival was cancelled. Of course, we understand why it was cancelled, but the symphony had spent over two years preparing for this major debut at the Kennedy Center and thanks to COVID-19, our dreams were dashed. We will move on, but it still hurts. The next exciting event for us will be the grand opening of our 2020/21 season on September 26, featuring Music Director Courtney Lewis as conductor and percussionist Colin Currie. Then on October 2, Courtney will kick off our Florida Blue Masterworks Series by conducting works by Mozart, Prokofiev, and Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony. Our annual Symphony Gala will feature the internationally renowned pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. In addition to our 13 Masterworks concerts, we will present concerts from our Pops and Special Events Series. 

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Author: Arbus

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