Courtney Lewis has molded some of Boston's finest young talent into an ensemble with a mission.
Courtney Lewis has molded some of Boston's finest young talent into an ensemble with a mission. Eric Antoniou
Hear Courtney Lewis conduct the Discovery Ensemble at the WGBH Studios.
Boston is fertile ground for exciting new orchestras, which is plain to hear in this concert of music by Beethoven and Martinu from our WGBH studio. There are so many extraordinary musicians in this city that powerful ensembles just keep appearing, evolving and making a difference.
Enter Courtney Lewis, a dashing twentysomething from Northern Ireland who studied composition, clarinet and conducting in England. He came to Boston to work with conductor Benjamin Zander, spending two years as an apprentice with the Boston Philharmonic.
Now, even as Lewis has taken on more responsibilities as the newly named associate conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra, he's fallen in love with Boston and molded some of its finest young talent into the Discovery Ensemble — a chamber orchestra with a mission. Boston Globe critic Jeremy Eichler calls their playing "lapel-grabbing."
For this session, Lewis brought Bohuslav Martinu's Double Concerto for two string orchestras, piano and timpani — a dark and relentless reaction to WWII. On either side of it, as if to enfold the music's bleak rage, he places movements from Beethoven's Symphony No. 3; the scherzo first, then the opening allegro con brio, which is a particular favorite.
"One of the reasons I've always loved this movement," Lewis told the audience, "was it made me feel so many different things. It makes you feel like you're traversing an enormous space, not just in terms of physical space, but in terms of emotional reaction to the music. It's a piece which you can inhabit, and feel like you're living."
Discovery Ensemble's performances are so focused and so fresh, it's almost startling. Anyone wanting to learn how an orchestra works would do well to witness the rapport between Lewis and his musicians. Along with his precisely trained baton technique — and a sparkling smile — Lewis has a vast repertoire of facial expressions and knowing glances his players understand and react to instantly. They trust him. And they're great musicians.
Lewis is also interested in giving grade-schoolers a good dose of the kinetic energy and rhythmic drive that comes with many of the best contemporary compositions. He takes Discovery Ensemble's players into schools, and by the end of the performance he's got 10-year-olds shouting, "Courtney! Courtney!" to let him know their reactions to the music.
The audience reaction in this studio concert wasn't far from that. It was a thrilling, tempestuous ride that neither I nor our studio audience will soon forget.
(Discovery Ensemble performs a concert of music by Beethoven, Stravinsky and Ades on Nov. 12 at Sanders Theater in Cambridge, Mass.)