Hometown conductor Joseph Young makes Spoleto Festival debut

Joseph Young rehearsing the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra earlier this week. On Wednesday, he made his festival debut.

When Joana Carniero, originally scheduled to conduct the first concert of the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra, had to cancel for personal reasons, 32-year-old Joseph Young stepped in. The performance marked his Spoleto Festvial debut.

Young was already on board as assistant conductor on "Kat'a Kabanova." He was asked to take over for Carniero just before rehearsals began.

"Essentially, I had three days to prepare," he said. "One of the pieces, The John Adams' Doctor Atomic Symphony, I had never done before. I'm used to doing this. I've jumped in before. There was a time in Arizona when I jumped in one day before the rehearsal. One time I had to drive to Birmingham in eight hours and perform."

Young is a rising star on the conducting scene. Soon after the festival wraps up, he will be joining the Atlanta Symphony as assistant conductor and music director of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra (ASYO).

"Joseph is a very talented conductor and an extremely nice young man who will fit beautifully into the educational programs and ASYO," said Jere Flint, current ASYO music director and staff conductor. "I leave these very important aspects of the symphonic world in very capable hands."

Young has been in Charleston for the last year, freelancing as a conductor.

"We were lucky to have him as an assistant," said John Kennedy, resident conductor and director of orchestral activities at Spoleto Festival. "He's quite an advanced conductor, who was a good choice for "Kat'a Kabanova" because it's a challenging opera. When Joana cancelled, obviously we considered our options about bringing in a big name at the last minute. But we realized, Joey was, artistically, absolutely ready to do this. It was an element of serendipity. Being a Charleston native, giving him this opportunity was the obvious choice."

Born and raised in Goose Creek, Young is excited about performing so close to home.

He made a Piccolo Spoleto appearance a few years ago, conducting the Charleston Symphony Orchestra in its annual Summer Serenade performance.

"I perform around the world but I hardly perform in Charleston," he said. "My family is very excited, too. They're coming to the concert and they're really looking forward to it."

Young was resident conductor of the Phoenix Symphony, and also spent a season as assistant conductor with the Buffalo Philharmonic. In 2007, he made his professional debut as the first recipient of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra-Peabody Institute Conducting Fellowship, and he worked with the BSO through 2009.

His recent conducting engagements include the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Tucson Symphony, Charleston Symphony Orchestra, Delaware Symphony Orchestra, and Orquestra Sinfonica do Porto Casa da Musica.

"I knew I wanted to be a conductor when I was 16," he said. "I went to a summer program at the Governor's School for the Arts; that's the first time I saw an orchestra and I knew I wanted to be a conductor. I went to the University of South Carolina for music education and I fell in love with teaching, so I taught high school for three years from 2004-2007 and continued to go to summer programs for conducting."

On Wednnesday night, Young and the orchestra performed Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, John Adams' Doctor Atomic Symphony and Bela Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra.

Orchestra percussionist Charlie Rosmarin said the Doctor Atomic Symphony is a real challenge for a conductor.

"It's very impressive to see him be so prepared because it uses so much technical skill on a base level," Rosmarin said. "We wouldn't have guessed he was put on it so last-minute. To be able to stand in front of so many people and make sure they know what you're doing, it's impressive."

Young said he would work with the orchestra "to find all the colors and atmosphere in the Doctor Atomic Symphony," to dig deep into the score and to internalize it.

"I want to be able to perform freely without thinking about every measure," he said.

Arshie Chevalwala is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.