For Jonathon Heyward, the new music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the key word for success is community.
At a news conference last week at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Heyward addressed a small group of news media about what can be expected of his first season in the driver’s seat. A priority of that, he said, will be a focus on “programming that is relevant to the community,” both in “having familiar faces in the community on our stages” as well as “pre- and post-concert experiences that relate to the community. These are things we’re thinking about.”
Heyward was named in July as the successor to Marin Alsop, who had a 14-year tenure as the BSO’s music director and founder of BSO OrchKids. His appointment was historic, making him the orchestra’s first non-white lead in its 106-year history. Considering that Baltimore City is more than 60% Black, Heyward’s ability to engage with the broader population outside of the orchestra will be crucial.
According to a news release issued Monday that expounded on the details of Heyward’s plans, the first initiative from the conductor and the orchestra will be an expansive three-day celebration across the BSO’s Baltimore and Bethesda homes, featuring both dance and music. Another initiative — the “Hall for All” — aims to bring musical talent together across different forms and throughout Maryland to transform the Meyerhoff into a welcoming space for everyone.
“As I get to know Baltimore, I’ll have a clearer answer on specific [non-orchestral] artists [that will be featured], but as far as that connection, it’s something that is a huge part of my tenure,” Heyward told The Banner on Wednesday. “To be able to bring the artists within the community here so they feel like they have a place here. I need to get to know those artists, though. I’ve only been here for a short amount of time and I look forward to growing and forging those connections.”
In this first year of his five-year contract, Heyward will conduct seven weeks of the “Classical Series” for subscribers, and will introduce a new “Casual Conversations” format. The latter will happen on three Saturdays this season at the Meyerhoff and feature a selection from the week’s classical program, while Heyward, through conversation, will add context for new visitors.
Among its many other plans for the 2023-2024 season, the orchestra announced that the fan-favorite Fusion series, which marries classical music with contemporary genres, will return, includng Fusion’s first-ever showing at Strathmore. The BSO also named soprano vocalist Christine Georke as its new artist-in-residence.
And a new “Film with Orchestra” concert series offers the chance to subscribe to packages that include three full-length studio films shown on a large screen as the live orchestra plays the respective scores in real-time. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Back to the Future” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” are all on the docket.
That follows a similar performance of the Grammy- and Oscar-winning score of “Black Panther,” which was part of the BSO’s Black History Month programming this year — a slate that also included a Harlem Renaissance-themed jazz show and a calypso fusion performance. Though those concerts predated the BSO’s announcement of their new season, they, too, showed the institution’s focus on community and inclusive events.
“The beautiful thing about classical music, I think, is that is can transcend any boundary. And I truly believe that, whether it’s race, age or ethnicity,” Heyward said. “My goal is, in a very short amount of time, I would love to see people of all groups in the same place to be able to realize that there’s this beautiful common ground. And we’ll get there, I have no doubt.”