The Oakland Symphony Orchestra suffered immeasurable losses this year due to the death of Michael Morgan. The beloved conductor and music director, who has worked in the organization for over 30 years, was respected by both musicians and the public.
Morgan, who passed away on August 20 at the age of 63 from complications from kidney transplant surgery, has left an indelible mark on the Bay Area music scene. His tenure raised the profile of the Auckland Symphony Orchestra, elevated the artists he worked with, and redefined how an orchestra can build, serve, and reflect its community. His accomplishments were so profound that some, after his loss, wondered if the organization he led could survive without him.
However, according to Oakland Symphony Executive Director Dr. Mieko Hatano, the new season of the orchestra, which opens on November 19 at the Paramount Theater, will carry Morgan’s legacy of innovation, inclusiveness and musical inspiration into the next chapter.
“When it happened, we were all traumatized,” Hatano said of Morgan’s passing. “At the same time, because this organization, which Michael has built for over 30 years, was largely based on him and his vision, we all shared the same horizon ahead. So there was no point not knowing what to do next. As staff, board and volunteers — everyone is so heartbroken — we all had to go for this feeling, “At this point, we must continue.”
Moving forward meant the start of the 21-22 season. But first, the symphony paid tribute to its longtime leader. On October 19, the Paramount Theater was filled to capacity with patrons, musicians and longtime friends eager to pay tribute. The program featured an eclectic cast of orchestra members and guest artists showcasing how many lives Morgan had touched and how broad his musical interests were.
Hatano said Morgan would love the event. “Michael had a unique way of making people feel like he was talking to you in a very personal way, so you felt like you knew him,” she said. “For each of us who knew him personally, we all knew him differently. He had so many interests. It actually took a whole room of people and then a few more people to put everything together in a way that reflected Michael’s many sides and interests. “
The Oakland Symphony also recently released a children’s book called Michael Morgan Music Maker, modeled on the Little People Big Dreams books, which follows the life of a conductor and is available for $ 25 on the symphony’s website.
The autumn season is about to begin. Announced earlier this month, it will open on Friday and run until May 20, 2022 with six subscription programs and various special events.
Hatano is particularly proud of the season’s guest conductor lineup, starting with May-Ann Chen, Music Director of the Chicago Sinfonietta. Opening the season on November 19 under the title Music Returns, Chen will host the Florence Price Piano Concerto program with Lara Downs as soloist; Also included are “In Memoriam, Soldiers of Colored Who Died for Democracy” by William Grant Still and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 “Eroica”.
In December, the popular celebratory concert of the symphony will take place: “Let’s Break the Bread Together.” This year’s December 12th edition will feature music by Ray Charles and BB King.
The concert with conductor Leslie B. Danner will kick off in 2022 with a program on January 21, which will include Amy Beach’s Symphony in E Minor, Gaelic and Paul Moravec’s Sanctuary. Guest artists include soprano Hope Briggs, mezzo-soprano Melody Wilson, tenor Noah Stewart, baritones Damien Geter and Philip Harris, and the Oakland Symphony Choir, conducted by Dr. Lynn Morrow.
Calena Bovell, Assistant Conductor of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, hosts the March 4 program featuring guitarist Meng Soo and the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir in works by Rodrigo, Debussy, Rautavaara and Respighi.
Danner returns on March 25 to lead the world premiere of yet-to-be-announced new work by composer Jack Pearl; The program concludes with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Concerto No. 1 for bass by Andres Martin with the participation of Aaron Holgin.
Nicholas McGegan, well known to the Bay Area public for his long tenure as Music Director of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, hits the podium on April 22 with award-winning actor F. Murray Abraham as narrator in Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Suite. Also on display are works by Mozart and Libby Larsen.
On May 20, respected conductor Leonard Slatkin will lead the season finale; The program includes Symphony No. 2 by Alan Howhaness, as well as music by Michael Tippett and Cindy McTee.
For more information and tickets visit oaklandsymphony.org.