Frank Denton: Visionaries for the new Jacksonville
By Frank Denton, The Florida Times-Union
May 28, 2016
The new Jacksonville will be supported by people who live in the safe and comfortable, but it will be created and inspired by those few who pull us to the edge, out of our comfort zones, asking us to think differently about people, things and ideas.
That thought occurred to me while I was listening to the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra and Chorus wonderfully perform Beethoven Symphony No. 9 to a very receptive audience at the Times-Union Center.
I was still reflecting on the first half of the program, which caused quite a stir and some shaking heads during the intermission, as well as audible grumbling and differences of opinion as and after the crowd left Jacoby Hall.
Conductor Courtney Lewis had conducted Asyla, a piece by young British composer Thomas Ades which has been called “the most beautiful ugly sound in the world.”
Indeed, the orchestra, supplemented with unusual instruments like cowbells, horns and differently tuned pianos, worked extra hard to perform the loud, violent, cacophonous, surprising, even shocking composition. At one point, half the orchestra is competing with the other half.
It left some of us fascinated and wondering — and on our feet — but others, maybe a majority, wondering whatever happened to the symphony classics they’ve heard all their lives.
Which Lewis then gave them with the Beethoven, presumably hoping that would assuage the crowd after its scary trip to the edge.
Lewis, who turns 32 today, was asking his substantially grayer audience to expand their concept of a symphony concert, from the beautiful and soothing evening of familiar, melodic masterworks to include new music like Ades’ which, as a Guardian critic wrote, “should take you to new places, via soundscapes and landscapes of feeling you hadn’t thought could exist.”
If Lewis’ goal was to get us to think and talk about music, he succeeded.
The new Jacksonville is being inspired by people like Courtney Lewis and …
Marcelle Polednik, director of MOCA Jacksonville, who helped us explore art in space with the atrium project, as well as other provocative exhibits (and who, unfortunately, has been recruited away by Milwaukee).
Peter Rummell, who asked us to think about a “healthy town” project now called The District — Life Well Lived (with which he’ll probably make money) and also about One Spark (to which he donated a bundle).
Hope McMath, director of the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, who relentlessly stimulates our social consciences through powerful exhibits of social and historical disaster and triumph.
Wayne Wood, the retired optometrist and historian whose imagination brought us the Riverside Arts Market, Riverside Avondale Preservation, the Friends of Hemming Park project and even an early version of One Spark.
Shad Khan, who made us think differently about billionaires, handlebar mustaches, internationalism, social incorrectness, yachts, Asian-Americans, bakery management and exotic coolness.
Cynthia Bioteau, president of FSCJ, who is helping energize downtown by investing students — restoring two buildings for the college’s first student dorms, a Center for Civic Engagement and the culinary arts program, complete with café for the public.
Mike Field of Transform Jax, who started Jaxsons Night Market, with local farmers, artisanal foodies, live music and more for another reason to hang out downtown.
Maria Hane, executive director of the Museum of Science and History, whose exhibit gave us an educated answer to the question “Race: Are We So Different?” and whose upcoming Anne Frank exhibit will show what we still can learn about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
Alex Coley, whose vision led to the blossoming of the Riverside/Brooklyn area, with its apartment, restaurant and retail community and the always engaged Unity Plaza.
Jay Burnett, whose Bold Bean coffee shops created a coffee culture and became a sort of salon for the new Jacksonville.
Sherry Magill, president of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, whose vision for the deteriorating Haydon Burns Library turned it into a gleaming downtown home for philanthropies and nonprofits.
Donna Orender, whose astounding energy and passion created Gen W and Gen Wow and ignited hundreds of women and girls to find and assert themselves.
And those are just some of the ones I know, or know of: people who, in their creation and inspiration, challenge the orthodoxy, usually at some risk to themselves — money, reputation, embarrassment or exposure.
Whom do you know? You yourself?