Jonathon Heyward, the rising young conductor who this fall will become the first Black music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, has been tapped to lead Lincoln Center’s summer ensemble, a reimagined version of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, the center announced on Wednesday.
Heyward, 30, will start a three-year contract with Lincoln Center next year. His appointment is part of the center’s changes to the revered Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, by giving it a new name, embracing a wider variety of genres and bringing more racial, ethnic and gender diversity to the stage.
“If a 10-year-old boy from Charleston can fall in love with this music, then anyone can,” Heyward said in an interview. “It has everything to do with accessibility and presentation.”
Heyward succeeds the orchestra’s longtime music director, Louis Langrée, whose contract expires this year. During Langrée’s 21-year tenure, he has helped rejuvenate the ensemble and cement its reputation as an acclaimed interpreter of the music of Mozart and the Classical repertoire.
“The orchestra musicians and I have developed a unique bond that I will treasure forever,” Langrée said in a statement. “I wish Jonathon as many joys as those I experienced during this extraordinary journey.”
Under Henry Timms, Lincoln Center’s president and chief executive, the organization has worked to appeal to a younger, more diverse crowd. Its efforts have led to some complaints from audience members, who say the center is not doing enough to promote classical music — which was once a fixture of the season and festivals there, but has been reduced significantly.
Since the pandemic, the future of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, established in 1973, has been uncertain. The festival whose name it bears — once one of Lincoln Center’s premier summertime events — no longer exists. In its place is “Summer for the City,” featuring a wider variety of genres, including pop music, social dance and comedy.
Shanta Thake, Lincoln Center’s chief artistic officer, said that the rethinking of Mostly Mozart was aimed at “opening this up and really saying that this is music that belongs to everyone.”
“It’s a necessary evolution,” she said. “This is an orchestra that I think has a big place in the hearts and minds of New York City, and we want to keep it that way.”
The Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra will get a new name when Heyward takes the podium next year. Thake said that its longtime moniker felt “a little myopic right now.”
“We’d love to just open up that conversation and have this orchestra be something more than just one composer, or mostly anything,” she said.
The center and the orchestra are negotiating a new contract — the previous agreement expired in February — and discussing issues including auditions, the process for hiring substitutes, diversifying the ranks of the ensemble and promoting community engagement.
Heyward, who made his Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra debut last year and will return this summer, said that he would work to broaden the ensemble’s repertoire, including by programming more works by contemporary composers. He mentioned Hannah Kendall, a friend, as an example of an artist he was eager to explore.
“We have to continue the lineage and the storytelling of today in order to really grow the art form,” he said.
Heyward said he would also seek to preserve the ensemble’s heritage. “I just don’t see that just completely disappearing overnight,” he said. “It won’t, simply.”
“I don’t plan on just throwing out the Beethoven symphonies, the Schumann symphonies or Mozart,” he added. “That’s not the approach to take, and that’s not what I believe in.”