In sixth grade he began playing the trumpet. His dad, a Navy man, thought it would keep him out of trouble. The trumpet was also the only instrument he could get to make a sound.
Then at age 16, Young attended a summer program at the Governor’s School for the Arts, where he took lessons, studied music theory and conducted for the first time. Goodbye, trumpet. Hello, baton.
“From then on, I was hooked,” he has said. “I wanted to become a conductor.”
And so he has. This month the 31-year-old became a new assistant conductor with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and music director of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra. He begins work officially June 1, succeeding the popular Jere Flint, who’s retiring after 35 years as ASYO music director and staff conductor, and 47 years as an ASO cellist.
Young was one of eight candidates invited to audition by conducting the ASO. Over two days, he led the musicians in the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. He also conducted the ASYO and spoke to the staff. His appointment was announced Feb. 5. He becomes the ASO’s first African-American assistant conductor.
It all goes back to those high school days in band and orchestra. Young went on to study at tiny Newberry College near Columbia and then the University of South Carolina. His first job was teaching band at D.W. Daniel High School in the town of Central (population: 5,154).
He finished graduate studies in conducting in 2009 at Baltimore’s Peabody Institute, where he became the first recipient of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra-Peabody Institute Conducting Fellowship.
More recently he’s conducted the Colorado, Tucson and Delaware symphonies, and the Orquestra Sinfonica do Porto Casa da Musica in Portugal. He returned to Charleston in 2012 to lead a Piccolo Spoleto program featuring highlights from George Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess, Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story and Aaron Copland’s Rodeo.
Until last year, Joey — as some friends call him — was a resident conductor with the Phoenix Symphony. This season, he’s been a Charleston-based freelancer, conducting in Europe and the United States. He’ll assistant conduct Spoleto Festival USA’s production of Leos Janacek’s opera Kat’a Kabanova in late May, helping prepare the musicians and working with conductor Anne Manson. Tony Award-winning director Garry Hynes (The Beauty Queen of Leenane) makes her opera debut with the piece.
“I am so excited and honored to be joining the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s artistic team alongside Robert Spano and Donald Runnicles,” Young says of the orchestra that has increasingly become known for its innovation and world-class musicians. His ASO contract is for one year, with the possibility of an extension.
And in April, he turns 32.