Jonathon Heyward, just 24, already is on a path to success in the classical music world. Heyward grew up in West Ashley and attended Charleston County public schools. He studied cello with Timothy O’Malley, whose patience and generosity enabled Heyward to advance as an artist.
He went on to enroll at the Boston Conservatory where, between 2012 and 2014, he was assistant conductor for the opera department. He worked on productions including “La Boheme,” “Die Zauberflote” and “The Rape of Lucretia.” In 2013, he became the youngest-ever semifinalist at the Blue Danube International Opera Conducting Competition.
He recently graduated with a master’s degree from the Royal Academy of Music in London. Now he’s assistant conductor of the Halle Orchestra in England, a two-year posting with one of Europe’s great musical institutions. He is avidly learning the repertoire but hopes to conduct opera, for which he has a passion, he said.
Q: You are 24 and you were recently appointed assistant conductor of the Halle Orchestra in Manchester, England. How did you get that plum job? And what precisely are you doing there?
A: My appointment with the Halle Orchestra was made official in March (when Heyward was still 23) after a trial period and audition that all started in January. After the final audition, I was offered the position the next day and I signed pretty quickly after that. All happened in what feels like a flash!
My post as the assistant conductor entails assisting the music director, Sir Mark Elder, assisting international guest conductors that work with the ensemble, acting as music director of the Halle Youth Orchestra and conducting all of the educational and outreach performances.
Q: You grew up in the Lowcountry and attended the School of the Arts. Was yours a musical household? At what point did you understand that you wanted to be a professional musician?
A: I do not come from a musical household. They all certainly appreciate music, but no one has actually played an instrument. I remember at the beginning of high school knowing I wanted to become a conductor. This aspiration was certainly made possible by my high school orchestra teacher, Ms. Sarah Fitzgerald.
Q: You started with cello and later began to conduct. Trace that musical evolution for me.
A: I started playing the cello in fifth grade at CE Williams Middle School after my not-so-successful “career” as a singer at Orange Grove Elementary School. It was my mom’s suggestion actually, and so I tried it out. Certainly surprised her when I brought home a cello instead of a violin. I then auditioned for the School of the Arts and was actually wait-listed. Fortunately, there was a spot that opened up right before the school year started and I then attended SOA for middle school and high school.
I began conducting in eighth grade when getting the opportunity to lead a rehearsal. My interest then continued, as I began conducting more at SOA and observing several rehearsals with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, learning a lot from the then-music director, Maestro David Stahl. Through these experiences, I became fascinated with how an ensemble of individuals came together to make one unified sound. That ... still does keep me hooked.
Q: At 23, you won the 54th International Competition for Young Conductors in Besancon, France. That’s a pretty big deal. What did you conduct and how did you prepare?
A: The competition was an amazing experience and I feel very lucky to have been able to participate in it. There were four intense rounds within the span of five days, which covered repertoire in various genres, including orchestral, concerto, operatic, new music and oratorical. This was by far the most music I was ever asked to learn, and it took about three months to properly prepare for all of the works.
I spent most of that summer locked in my room studying these works. Right before going to France, I received coachings from Sian Edwards, my conducting professor at the Royal Academy of Music, which proved to be incredibly beneficial.
Q: Any plans to return to Charleston? What’s next for you career-wise?
A: There is nothing official in the books yet as far as conducting goes, but I sure hope that changes soon. Being able to give back to the community that gave me so much is something I feel very passionate about.
As far as the career goes, I am taking it one step at a time. I’ve been very fortunate now with the new job and also with being able to start my career as a guest conductor with CLB Management Company, allowing me to travel internationally to work with some fantastic ensembles worldwide.