Jonathon Heyward is a product of the public school system of Charleston, South Carolina. He started studying cello at age 10 and got his first opportunity to conduct when his name was drawn from a hat to conduct the school orchestra.
That serendipitous event ended up defining his life. He was still in his teens when he started conducting professionally in Boston; at age 21 he started conducting various ensembles in England, his home base for several years (where he picked up the local accent, which you can hear in his interviews); and now, at age 29, having made appearances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and at the BBC Proms and been named Chief Conductor of the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie in Herford, Germany, he has a new title: Music Director Designate of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Like everything else in the young maestro’s life, this latest development came together remarkably quickly; as a relationship between orchestra and conductor, it was love at first downbeat.
He made his debut with the orchestra in March of this year, and was immediately asked to return in April to conduct a benefit concert for Ukraine. He will next return for a pair of programs in May 2023, which will include works by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and three living composers; that fall he will begin his five-year contract as Music Director.
This balance of the old and new is the new normal for the BSO. While the upcoming season may be a transitional one – Marin Alsop officially ended her own historic 14-year tenure as the orchestra’s music director at the end of the 2020-2021 season – they are not playing it safe, featuring lots of new music and innovative programming.
Much of the energy that is fueling the re-energized BSO is its commitment to diversity. As the BSO's first African-American conductor, Heyward sees it as his responsibility to be a model for young classical musicians who, as he puts it, “look like him.”
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