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Baltimore Symphony Orchestra appoints first person of color as Music Director

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra appoints first person of color as Music Director
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra appoints first person of color as Music Director 00:31

BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra announced Tuesday it has appointed Jonathon Heyward as its next music director, the very first person of color to lead the 106-year-old orchestra. 

The conductor's five-year contract begins in the 2023-2024 season, but Heyward will serve as Music Director Designate for the upcoming 2022-23 season, the orchestra said. 

Heyward succeeds Marin Alsop, who announced in 2020 she would step down after her 14-year tenure. She'll stay at the orchestra as Music Director Laureate until 2026, leading the orchestra in three concert weeks in each of the coming seasons. 

Currently the Chief Conductor of the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie in Germany, Heyward, 29, is hailed by the BSO as "one of classical music's most exciting young talents." His selection from the BSO's search committee was unanimous, the orchestra said. 

Heyward developed a love for classical music at age 10 growing up in South Carolina, and was originally trained as a cellist and chamber musician, the BSO said. 

Jonathon Heyward, 29, named Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra BSO

Heyward's resume includes stints at the Boston Conservatory Opera, the Hampstead Garden Opera Company in London and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He studied at the Boston College of Music and completed his postgraduate studies in conducting at the Royal Academy of Music in London. 

Although his main gig is currently thousands of miles away, Heyward is no stranger to the BSO. Last March he led three performances that included the Baltimore Symphony's first-ever performance of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 15, and he returned in April to lead a Benefit Concert for Ukraine.

Heyward said he was drawn to the Baltimore Symphony since he started working with them, and that leading it is a "tremendous honor."

"The Baltimore Symphony's irresistible artistry, energy, and optimism were clear to me from the first moment we rehearsed together earlier this year," he said. "We shared a special chemistry then and in the concerts we have given since. I look forward to seeing where that can take us in the years ahead."  

Heyward will return to the Baltimore Symphony in May 2023 as Music Director Designate for two concert programs.

"Appointing Jonathon Heyward as music director is both incredibly inspirational and aspirational," said President and CEO Mark Hanson. "We are inspired by his artistry, passion, and vision for the BSO, as well as for what his appointment means for budding musicians who will see themselves better reflected in such a position of artistic prominence."

On Facebook, Mayor Brandon Scott praised the hire.

"I couldn't be more excited to hear that Jonathon Heyward is set to lead the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as its next music director," the mayor said. "Jonathon is making history not only as the first Black Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra but also as the only Black American conductor leading a major U.S. symphony."

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