The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has found its next music director in 29-year-old conductor Jonathon Heyward, who is currently the chief conductor of the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie.
The BSO announced Thursday morning that Heyward had been selected to succeed former BSO music director Marin Alsop, who conducted the orchestra for 14 years before stepping down in 2021.
“It is a tremendous honor to join the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at this exciting time in its long and distinguished history,” Heyward said in a statement. “I believe we have a great opportunity to build on the storied achievements of the orchestra under Marin Alsop’s inspirational leadership and to explore the many ways in which we can reach the greatest number of people at home and overseas.
The orchestra signed Heyward for a five-year contract starting in the 2023-24 season. He will serve as Music Director Designate for the 2022-23 season, leading two weeks of performances in May 2023.
The BSO’s search committee unanimously selected Heyward for the music director position.
Heyward led three BSO performances in March 2022, including the orchestra’s first-ever performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15. He also led a benefit concert for Ukraine at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in April.
“I am passionate about the power of symphonic music to bring audiences together and to speak to all communities,” Heyward said. “The Baltimore Symphony’s irresistible artistry, energy, and optimism were clear to me from the first moment we rehearsed together earlier this year. 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.”
BSO president and CEO Mark Hanson said in a statement that Heyward’s appointment “is both incredibly inspirational and aspirational.”
“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,” Hanson said. “At the same time, he is a star on the rise, and his vibrant talent, bold programming, and fervent commitment to community engagement will continue to grow our relationship with the many communities across Maryland.”
The BSO’s selection of Heyward as music director comes at a time when community members are pushing for more diverse representation among Baltimore’s cultural institutions, specifically naming more Black people to leadership roles to better reflect the population of Baltimore, which is a majority Black city.
Heyward is the latest Black person to be selected for a leadership position at a major Baltimore institution.
Other recent additions include James D. Thornton as board chair of the Baltimore Museum of Art; Jenenne Whitfield as director of AVAM; Gregory Smith as executive director of the Creative Alliance; and James DeGraffenreidt Jr. as the board chair of the Walters Art Museum.
Heyward trained as a cellist starting at 10 years old, and started conducting while still a student in the South Carolina Public School System.
Studying at Boston Conservatory of Music, Heyward became assistant director of the school’s opera department and of the Boston Opera Collaborative.
In 2016, Heyward completed his postgraduate lessons with Sian Edwards at London’s Royal Academy of Music.
Heyward served as assistant conductor of the Hallé Orchestra for three years, where Sir Mark Elder mentored him, completing his time there at the end of the 2018-2019 season.
Now the chief conductor of the German symphony orchestra Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie, Heyward participated in a two-week residency with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain in the summer of 2021, which led to his BBC Proms debut.
“Magic struck when Jonathon took the stage in March, and the chemistry between him and the orchestra was apparent from his first moments on the podium,” said Brian Prechtl, BSO percussionist and chair of the Players’ Committee, in a statement. “Jonathon’s unique programming, strong communication skills, and ability to push the orchestra with new ideas demonstrated some of the most important musical traits we’ve been looking for in a music director.”
Heyward will conduct two concert programs with the BSO on May 4-7 and May 19-21.