“A Career-Defining Evening” – Jonathon Heyward’s “Exuberant and Exhilarating” BBC Proms Debut

10 Aug 2021

Rising star conductor Jonathon Heyward has earned rapturous acclaim for his BBC Proms debut on 7 August. Leading the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and violinist Nicola Benedetti, “the ensemble marshalled by [Heyward] was ultra-taut throughout, gutsy solo lines delivered from the stage’s outer reaches tightly locked into the orchestral mainstream” (The Guardian).

In her 5 star review for The Guardian, Flora Willson writes:

Jessie Montgomery’s Banner provided an equivalent opportunity for Technicolor funk and forward drive, compressing and refracting the Star-Spangled Banner through layers of more recent musical idioms. It was ferociously committed and incisive; no wonder Heyward leaned back against the podium, grinning and exhausted, at its end.

“Not too exhausted, though, to lead – from memory – a fast and fearless performance of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, in which loud chords exploded, repeating like fireworks in the hall’s dome, and the quietest passages barely registered. It was exuberant, exhilarating stuff.”

The I’s Alexandra Coughlan notes Heyward’s striking influence on the orchestra writing, “We know the NYOGB can do passion, but this cool frenzy was something else. …Beethoven’s Eroica, shaped by Heyward…was at once unexpectedly Classical but also fiercely revolutionary, the fist-slamming repeated chords in the first movement a direct ancestor to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.”

Nick Breckenfield in Classical Source writes, “What followed was a tremendous performance of Eroica. …Heyward drew out an admirably heroic performance with period punch and an ear for orchestral colour.  The funeral march slow movement for many may have had a special resonance after eighteen months of the pandemic, but the whole programme had been devised as a statement of hope, and it worked: hope for the future careers of such fantastic young players perhaps paramount.”

The Arts Desk’s Boyd Tonkin applauds, “Heyward’s assured, even audacious, direction.” He writes:

“Heyward coaxed the NYO into some ravishing exchanges with the silver filigree of [Benedetti’s] tone. The glorious andante, as an almost jokey tick-tock Baroque motif answers the gossamer beauties of the violin melody, unrolled like fine silk threaded through with strands of bitter wormwood. …Heyward made sure they sounded playful and poignant all at once. He kept up the disciplined cohesion of sound that marked the evening – quite a feat for him, and them.

“…It’s hard to imagine a tougher test than the “Eroica” Symphony for a youth orchestra disrupted by 18 months of emergency shutdowns. …the result moved, excited and most of all uplifted us. …Heyward played it cool. He let in sharp contrasts of light and shade, of frenzy and stillness, gravity and geniality. Here was no naive wham-bang stampede but a sophisticated reading that called for, and got, sophisticated playing at vital turning-points. Mellow, well-paced and balanced strings in the opening Allegro; suspenseful shifts in tempi both there and throughout; a refusal to rush or to shout: Heyward brought out the NYO’s capacity for polish as well as passion. Firm, rich horns dazzled in the scherzo; oboe and clarinet and other woods added their nicely refined contributions; the funeral march rose slowly, even slyly, up its hill of mourning. Heyward wasn’t afraid make us to wait, and to listen.”

“This Prom was about Jonathon Heyward, NYOGB and Beethoven. …Heyward’s a man of twenty-nine coolly heading for the stratosphere,” writes Ateş Orga in Colin’s Column. “Economic in body language, he displays a wiry rhythmic tension in what he does, together with the clearest of beats. Gratuitous indulgence, excessive gesture, isn’t his scene. Crisp punctuation, grammatically underlined cadences, sharp dynamics, phrased hairpins, clean cut-offs are. Clarity, coaxing his musicians, getting everyone to listen yet have their say and freedom, openness and accessibility, knowing what it is to be given opportunity, determine his manner and aesthetic.

“An ‘Eroica’ to seize you by the throat. Bold vision, taut architecture, sweeping paragraphs, enough detail to speak and stimulate but not overcrowd or detract. …>

“One grew up on other kinds of ‘Eroica’ – Knappertsbusch, Klemperer, Karajan, Barbirolli, the weight of von Matačić, the ‘wedding cake’ monumentalism of Svetlanov. …Every now and again performances stop us in our tracks. I’ve written elsewhere about Kristjan Järvi’s seismic Baltic Youth Philharmonic ‘explosion’ in Paris in 2015. Then there was that phenomenal night with the Simón Bolívar National Youth Orchestra under Dudamel at the 2007 Proms. Jonathon Heyward opens a new page. A career-defining evening.”

Watch and listen to Jonathon Heyward’s BBC Proms debut on iPlayer through 8 October, and BBC Sounds through 4 September.


Photo: Laura Thiesbrummel