2022 | Entertainment & Events

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra appoints Jonathon Heyward as music director

Conductor replaces Marin Alsop as leader of orchestra with residence at Strathmore’s Music Center

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Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Music Director Jonathon Heyward

Courtesy of Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Jonathon Heyward, the new music director for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, says that when he conducts, he feels like he is welcoming an audience into his living room.

“I want them to feel they are a part of this journey,” Heyward says in a video posted by the BSO on its Facebook page Thursday as it announced Heyward’s appointment.

Heyward, 29, begins his five-year contract in the 2023-24 season and will serve as music director designate for the 2022-23 season, according to the BSO. The BSO is the founding partner and resident orchestra of The Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda.

“We are excited for our founding partner, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, on this momentous announcement and especially compelled by Maestro Heyward’s belief that classical music is for everyone, which supports Strathmore’s own conviction that the arts belong to all of us, and everyone should have access to them,” Strathmore President and CEO Monica Jeffries Hazangeles said in a statement.  

As the orchestra’s music director, Heyward will be the only Black conductor to lead a major U.S. orchestra, The Baltimore Sun reported. He will replace Marin Alsop, who spent 14 years as the BSO’s music director and founded BSO OrchKids, a music program designed for Baltimore City youth, according to a BSO press release.

“It is a tremendous honor to join the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at this exciting time in its long and distinguished history,” Heyward said in the release.

In the BSO’s Facebook video, first violinist Chelsea Kim says that there was good chemistry between Heyward and the musicians from the moment he began conducting.

“We immediately felt the mutual trust right there because he was really effectively listening to us and was not afraid to listen to us,” Kim said.

The appointment of Heyward was the result of a two-year process that included experiencing “a dozen superb conductors from around the world” leading the orchestra, according to a letter from the Baltimore Symphony Music Director Search Committee posted on the orchestra’s website.

“Appointing Jonathon Heyward as music director is equally inspirational and aspirational,” said the letter signed by the search committee members. “We are inspired by his artistry, passion, and vision for the BSO, as well as by what his appointment means for budding musicians who will see themselves better reflected in such a position of artistic prominence. At the same time, his is a star on the rise, and the heights we can achieve together are truly limitless.”

Heyward began studying as a cellist at age 10 and started conducting while still at school, according to the press release. He attended the Boston Conservatory of Music and received postgraduate lessons from Sian Edwards at London’s Royal Academy of Music.

He currently serves as the chief conductor of the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie in Germany.

A spokesperson for Strathmore was not immediately available for comment.

Christine Zhu of Gaithersburg, a rising junior at the University of Maryland who is studying journalism and Spanish, is the Bethesda Beat summer intern.