A Modern Classic
Sure, it could have been the jazz festivals in London and New York City that nine-year-old Courtney Lewis hit with his dad. It might as easily have been the clarinet lessons that Courtney took as a kid. But something in that musical childhood prompted this boy to know instantly, indelibly, indescribably that classical music was his thing. The emotional range! The instrumental complexity! The tonal creativity! These are the things that elementary-school-aged Courtney thought about. Then again, he was sort of a prodigy.
By the time he was in high school in Belfast, Ireland, when other boys were crushing each other in rugby, Courtney was exploring Ludwig van Beethoven's anger. It helped him deal with being a teenager, frankly. Classical music, Courtney reckoned, contained all the stuff of adolescence — the angst, stress, and general pissed-off take on the world. Who better to commiserate with than Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, and Bach? Better than a pint, ay? Legal, too. Courtney felt less alone.
At the University of Cambridge, it became clear that Courtney was special. He shot to the top of his class, excelling in composition and playing his beloved clarinet. But he was gifted in another way, too — people liked him. When he tried conducting, even prickly musicians took to him. Courtney could manage an orchestra and feel each musician, baby. That, coupled with an intuition for what a piece of music can say and do, made for quite a punch — piano forte, you might say. Before long, he had earned his master's and spent a two-year stint as a Zander Fellow at the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2008, as a young 20-something, he had his first major American debut with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. Standing O, Court!
Back in Boston, he became the founder and musical director of the Discovery Ensemble, a chamber orchestra devoted to introducing inner-city kids to classical music. He also works in other cities, conducting the Minnesota Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in sweat-drenched performances that rival any Jay-Z bust-a-move dance. Off hours, you will often find him in classrooms, waxing poetic about Ludwig's No. 9 and Amadeus's minuets — none of which you'll hear on Ryan Seacrest's top 40, you understand, but still spot-on cool. Classical music is classical for a reason; it's timeless, profound, and able to hold up to the challenges of each generation...adolescence included.