Sideview of man in black jacket and glasses holding a baton and conducting
Jonathon Heyward begins his tenure as BSO's music director in September. Photo courtesy of BSO.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will welcome its new music director, Jonathon Heyward, with a three-day season opening gala celebration, which will include a special collaboration with the Dance Theater of Harlem and a free community performance at Artscape.

Gov. Wes Moore and First Lady Dawn Flythe Moore will serve as Honorary Gala Chairs. The three-day celebration will take place in three different venues, including the BSO’s two year-round homes — The Music Center at Strathmore on Friday, Sept. 22, the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on Saturday, Sept. 23, and a Meyerhoff finale during a free community concert as a part of the return of Artscape 2023 on Sunday, Sept. 24.

“Music elevates, validates, and inspires us every day — it is how we tell our stories. Thanks to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, a beautiful story is being told in Maryland, with music resounding on traditional and unexpected stages in every corner of our state,” the Moores said in a statement. “We are proud to serve as Honorary Chairs of this year’s three-day, statewide gala celebration. We are so excited to honor the incredible power of the arts and give the warmest Maryland welcome to Jonathon Heyward.”

Heyward is excited about the kick-off event, and proud to embark upon the next chapter of his already distinguished career.

“Our upcoming three-day opening gala is a celebration of music’s ability to transcend boundaries and unite communities,” Heyward said. “I am particularly honored to collaborate with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestras, and the BSO OrchKids during these celebratory performances as these partnerships underscore my belief in the transformative power of the arts and its capacity to inspire and uplift. The opportunity to stand at the helm of such a distinguished orchestra, alongside the immensely talented BSO musicians, fills me with tremendous pride and I can’t wait to get started.”

Heyward is the BSO’s youngest and first-ever Black music director, and the only American-born leader of any major orchestra in the United States. He will serve a five-year tenure, which begins with the gala celebration.

Last year, The Baltimore Sun reported on the disproportionately low number of Black and American conductors and music directors of major orchestras, highlighting Heyward as one of the few who have managed to break through to success at national and international levels.

“In 2016, the New York-based League of American Orchestras surveyed 170 of the approximately 1,600 U.S. symphonies and found that just 5% of conductors at the larger-budget orchestras and 3.6% of conductors at smaller ensembles were Black. And that’s a problem, because an orchestra isn’t just a cultural group. It’s part of a city’s power structure,” read the article.

The article cited the obstacles of “privilege and access that pop up in any story about race in America.” One of the keys, however, identified as critical to opening doors to professional careers as a classical musician was putting string instruments into the hands of elementary school students.

The Sun article reported that about 94% of American public schools offer some level of music lessons, according to a 2017 by the Give A Note Foundation. However, the study found that much fewer public schools in the U.S. teach students to play string instruments, including only about one-quarter of elementary schools and less than two-fifths of middle and high schools.

Heyward lived in a school district in South Carolina that gave fourth-graders the chance to learn how to play string instruments, had family who supported his conducting ambitions, and his talent and work ethic eventually brought him to lead the BSO.

At the gala celebration, guests will enjoy performances of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance, Op 46, No. 1, Tchaikovsky’s Mazurka from Act III of Swan Lake, Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, and a world premiere choreography of Hailstork’s Symphony No. 1, among other pieces. Members of the Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestra and BSO OrchKids are also highlighted in this performance.

To add a personal touch to Heyward’s welcome, the BSO is adding a game of “Find the Golden Converse” to the gala celebration.

“This scavenger hunt-style game is inspired by Jonathon’s ‘Converse Conductor’ moniker and pays tribute to his affinity for the footwear brand. Pairs of mini-converse sneakers are hidden in various locations throughout Baltimore City and Montgomery County,” reads the press release. “Participating locations like the Walters Art Museum, Reginald F. Lewis Museum, the Maryland Zoo, and others encourage visitors to try their luck at finding the Golden Converse during their visit for an opportunity to win tickets to the Season Opening Galas.”

Find more information about the game and rules by clicking this link.

The details of the gala celebration are as follows:


The Music Center at Strathmore
5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD 20852


Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall
1212 Cathedral Street, Baltimore, MD 21201


Features special guests Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Jonathon Heyward in his debut performances as BSO Music Director.

POST-CONCERT (Strathmore and Meyerhoff Gala Performances Only)

Celebratory toast and After-Party with BSO Artists.


Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall
1212 Cathedral Street, Baltimore, MD 21201


A free, community concert in Baltimore City as part of the return of Artscape. Features special guests Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Jonathon Heyward in his debut performances as BSO Music Director. Tickets for the Artscape event are distributed by local charities and community organizations.

For more information on the gala, click this link.

For information on tickets and concerts, memberships, and more, click this link.

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