Jonathon Heyward came to classical music at age 10, when he picked up the cello—an instrument that felt bigger than he was at the time. Now a conductor splitting his time among a trifecta of prestigious positions, he is a rising star in the field. Starting this season, he becomes music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO). He was recently named the music director of the Lincoln Center Summer Orchestra, effective next year. And he continues his role as the chief conductor of Germany’s Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie orchestra, which he has held since 2021.

Heyward, 31, is BSO’s first music director of color and the youngest current music director of any major U.S. orchestra. To that, he says, “Challenge accepted.”

Read More: Why We Remember Music and Forget Everything Else

Jonathon Heyward conducting the Charleston Symphony in South Carolina. (Alyona Semenov—Charleston Symphony)
Jonathon Heyward conducting the Charleston Symphony in South Carolina.
Alyona Semenov—Charleston Symphony

It is definitely a challenge, a juggling act that requires daily compartmentalization and a typical wake time of 5 a.m. But the collective power of classical music keeps him excited about the work. “The power of people inspires me,” he says. “What’s so amazing about the art form is that through so many talented people, you create one thing that is more powerful than anything.” The BSO is the only U.S. orchestra to have two homes: the Meyerhoff Concert Hall in Baltimore and the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, Md. The orchestra has also been traversing the state, bringing music to those who might not have accessed it. The experience has shown Heyward that audiences thrive when the orchestra selects pieces that speak to them. “For me, this opens up accessibility,” he says. “This opens up this feeling that classical music could be for everyone, which is my real mission.”

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