Joseph Young, pictured conducting the Berkeley Symphony, opens the orchestra’s season on Oct. 24 at Zellerbach Hall. (Courtesy Dave Welland)

Joseph Young takes lead of Berkeley Symphony

Conductor heads up diverse, premiere-laden 2019-20 season

Joseph Young, who had an auspicious debut as guest conductor of the Berkeley Symphony under short notice in January, leads the orchestra as its new music director this week as it begins its 49th diverse, premiere-laden season Thursday at Zellerbach Hall.

Young, who made a strong impression when he led the orchestra Jan. 31 with two days to prepare after guest conductor Jonathon Heyward canceled due to illness, quickly established a rapport with the ensemble in a challenging program that included a world premiere by Hannah Kendall and works by Bernstein and Britten.

“It was a quite remarkable experience because of the chemistry of the orchestra, which was pretty immediate, and I think what I was drawn to was their urge to really make music and really make it a moment, and they worked really hard during the whole process,” Young says. “I’m really proud of being named the music director for an orchestra that has an extraordinary history for innovative programming.”

Young, 37, whose previous stints included assistant conductor of the Atlanta Symphony, music director of the Atlanta Youth Symphony and resident conductor of the Phoenix Symphony, is the artistic director of ensembles at the Peabody Conservatory and the resident conductor of the National Youth Orchestra. Young’s appointment at the Berkeley Symphony represents his first music directorship.

Thursday’s season opening includes a rare performance of late African-American composer and UC Berkeley Professor of Music Olly Wilson’s “Shango Memory,” which was inspired by the Yoruban god of thunder and lightning. Also on the program are Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major, with pianist Conrad Tao.

The season continues Feb. 6 with a concert featuring the world premiere of a Xi Wang work, part of the League of American Orchestra’s 2015 Women Composers Commissions, and the Bay Area premieres of Bryce Dressner’s “Voy a Dormir,” based on poetry by the Argentinian feminist Alfonsina Storni, and Mary Kouyoumdjian’s “Become Who I Am,” which honors the 19th Amendment and Voting Rights Act, and features the San Francisco Girls Chorus. Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 is also on the program.

Bay Area premieres grounded in jazz are on tap March 26 in a concert with Gunther Schuller’s “Journey into Jazz,” featuring the Berkeley High Jazz Combo, Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Trumpet Concerto, Milhaud’s “La création du monde” and Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.” The season finale May 14 includes compositions that salute the human spirit: the premiere of a work by Derrick Spiva Jr. and Bay Area premiere of Roxanna Panufnik’s “Three Paths to Peace,” as well as Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5.

“I’m very proud that my first season has a diverse group of composers and guest artists, and it speaks to who I am as artistic director. I’m always looking for composers who have an original voice, and it’s so important to be in touch with the creative process between composer and conductor. I find it inspiring that an audience can be part of that process as well, and I want Berkeley Symphony to be seen as its vessel,” Young says.

IF YOU GO

Berkeley Symphony

Where: Zellerbach Hall, near Bancroft Way and Durant Avenue, UC Berkeley

When: 7 p.m., Oct. 24; 8 p.m. Feb. 6; 8 p.m. March 26; 8 p.m. May 14

Tickets: $15 to $96

Contact: (510) 841-2800, www.berkeleysymphony.org

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