Most graduating high school seniors hate the question, “What’s next?” But Out-Of-Door Academy senior Nicholas Lewis has a plan — an undergraduate degree in conducting with a minor in piano from Florida State University. His dream job is conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
At 2:30 p.m. Saturday, May 25, he’s conducting a free community concert featuring The Church of Palms Orchestra and three members of the Sarasota Youth Opera, at Bay Village Auditorium, 8400 Vamo Road. They’ll be performing a repertoire Lewis selected; he’s been working with them for the past five months. One song they’ll perform is a violin sonata, which he composed.
The time he’s spent preparing for the concert is not part of a school requirement — it’s just for fun.
And what are his friends doing during his weekly rehearsals with this orchestra, his piano lessons, violin practices, performances with the Youth Opera and internship with the Sarasota Opera?
“Partying,” he says with a laugh. It’s no wonder this 18-year-old feels older than his peers.
He’s been writing music since the seventh grade, after seeing the movie, “Copying Beethoven,” an artistic account of the final year Beethoven lived.
Lewis grew up in Bucks County, Penn., and moved one year ago to Sarasota with his chemist father, Dale, and his nurse mother, Debbie. He joined the joined Sarasota Youth Opera, where he met youth opera Music Director Jesse Martins — who would become his mentor and piano teacher.
Martins had Lewis sit next to the conductor stand and take notes during youth opera rehearsals. He started him out small — to see if he were serious — and slowly introduced him to the art of conducting at rehearsals. After Lewis landed the opportunity through a teacher at ODA to conduct The Church of Palms Orchestra, he needed a little guidance.
“I’ve learned so much, it’s amazing,” Lewis says. “You don’t know what you don’t know. And the more you learn, the more you realize what you don’t know.”
Martins also arranged Lewis’ internship with Sarasota Opera. Martins advised him on the repertoire selections for the upcoming concert; suggested using three Youth Opera singers; and will accompany the Church of Palms orchestra on piano.
“Of course I wanted to help. I never had this opportunity when I was his age,” Martins says.
But Lewis had the hard job: taking an orchestra of 20 novice and intermediate musicians, all different ages; selecting music they could all play; and helping them play as a group. Before Lewis, the group repeated the same songs — songs from “Brigadoon” or “Largo” from New World Symphony. So, Lewis taught them Mozart, Puccini and Barber. Even though he’s taught them, it’s Lewis who has learned the most.
“It’s made me realize a lot of things about what goes into developing concerts and conducting, in general,” he says.
Five Things that Inspire Nicholas Lewis:
1. Leonard Bernstein — He’s the first person who inspired me to become a conductor. At that time I didn’t know much about the technique of conducting and I loved the way he expressed emotion on the podium through gestures.
2. David Booth — Back when I was in Pennsylvania, he was a violinist in the Philadelphia Orchestra and I was his violin student.
3. The opera “Turandot” — It was the first opera I ever listened to. It inspired me to like opera.
4. The Philadelphia Orchestra — Well, I was always really impressed with the sound they made and how together they were — they breathed together, thought together and also are technically phenomenal musicians
5. My social circle — My family, friends and, of course, Maestro Jesse Martins and Maestro (Victor) DeRenzi. They have all been incredibly supportive.