As a Charleston, S.C., native who knew he wanted to be a professional conductor from age 16, Joseph Young has always had a wishful eye cast on the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
The ASO is announcing Wednesday that the 31-year-old Young, who most recently served as resident conductor of the Phoenix Symphony, will become its assistant conductor starting June 1.
“It feels great because the Atlanta Symphony has been the orchestra I’ve kind of looked up to, being the orchestra for the Southeast,” Young said. “It’s always been a dream to come work for this orchestra in some capacity, but to be here for a whole year is a dream come true.”
While Young’s contract with the ASO is officially one year, it could be extended once the conductor learns the orchestra and vice versa.
There will be plenty of opportunity for that as Young fills a full-time position that has been vacant since the term of Mei-Ann Chen, a League of American Orchestras Conducting Fellow, ended in 2009.
Young will assume three major responsibilities: serve as a “cover conductor” for the major Symphony Hall concerts, being prepared to step in if an ASO or guest maestro is unable to perform as well as providing an extra set of ears and eyes during rehearsals; work as the primary conductor for the ASO’s education and community concerts; and become music director of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra.
In that final role, Young will succeed Jere Flint, who is retiring after directing the ASYO for 35 years and performing as an ASO cellist for 47.
In an ASO announcement about the appointment, Flint called Young “a very talented conductor and extremely nice young man who will fit beautifully into the educational programs and ASYO.”
Young, who worked with student instrumentalists at a South Carolina high school before beginning his conducting career with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2007, said the opportunity to help train the youth orchestra players was a big attraction in deciding to apply.
After submitting a CD of his conducting, he was selected as one of eight finalists to audition in front of the orchestra, under the close scrutiny of music director Robert Spano and other ASO leaders.
“Auditions are always nerve-wracking, but you have to get over it,” Young said.
That’s probably one piece of advice he will share with his young charges. He said he takes the opportunity to serve as a role model seriously.
“No one’s ever told me that I couldn’t be a conductor because I’m African-American,” Young said. “I always think about being on the podium, giving kids of any race an opportunity to see someone of my age, how hard I’ve worked, letting them know this is something they can do as well.”
Though his schedule of appearances remains to be set, he knows that hard work will continue.
“I’m really honored to be working with Robert Spano and (principal guest conductor) Donald Runnicles,” the young maestro said. “It’s been a dream of mine to work with Robert, and I’m looking forward to learning as much as I can from him.”
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