Adventurer Oakland Maestro Michael Morgan dies aged 63

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Music director Michael Morgan Oakland SymphonyIn this 30-year tenure trying to bring orchestral music to a wider audience, especially young people and people of color, he died August 20 in Oakland, California. He was 63 years old.

The orchestra said the cause was complications from an infection. Mr. Morgan had had a kidney transplant in May and resumed the chieftaincy last month.

One of the few Black maestros to lead a prominent professional orchestra, Mr. Morgan was keen to diversify the symphony’s program and audience.

“My main goal is to show the rest of the orchestral music field that you can make an orchestra relevant and engaging to the ensemble,” he told the weekly The California Voice in 1991 as he began his career in Oakland. especially to black youths that some might think are not interested in anything.”

He made numerous visits to schools in the region. He brought an eclectic roster of guest artists to the orchestra’s home base, the Paramount Theatre, including Isaac Hayes in 2001 and Carlos Santana in 2010. He started a program called “Playlist”. labor activist Dolores Huerta selected and introduced the pieces to be performed.

Colleagues said Mr. Morgan was more interested in making a fun show.

“Michael was not afraid to address social issues directly, and we (the Oakland Symphony) were the tools he used to bridge the gap between races and different political beliefs,” said Dawn Harms, the symphony’s co-concert conductor. email. “There was nothing like an Oakland Symphony concert with Michael at the helm. The audience was incredibly diverse, coming together under one roof and rocking the Paramount Theater with a very jolly, enthusiastic roar.

A feature article In 2013, the San Jose Mercury News had a striking headline about Mr. Morgan: “Nobody Sleeps When Michael Morgan Is Directing.”

Michael DeVard Morgan was born on September 17, 1957 in Washington. His mother, Mabel (Dickens) Morgan, was a health researcher and his father, Willie, was a biologist.

He grew up in the city where he started taking piano lessons at the age of 8. At the age of 12 he was conducting the middle school orchestra.

Mr. Morgan studied composition at the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. At the age of 22 he entered the international Hans Swarowsky conducting competition in Vienna – later just for experience, he said – and eventually won. This gave him the chance to direct Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Palace” at the Vienna State Opera in 1982.

Georg Solti made him assistant conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1986. During his seven years there he regularly conducted the Chicago Civic Orchestra and the Chicago Youth Symphony. And he began to develop a sense of duty.

She told The Chicago Tribune in 1993: “When I started my career, I wasn’t into the idea of ​​being a role model or increasing minority numbers on the field. However, I realized that someone had to take responsibility.”

Mr. Morgan has performed with numerous great American orchestras, as well as the New York City Opera, St. He was a guest conductor with the Louis Opera Theater and the Washington National Opera. When he directed the New York Philharmonic in 1992, news accounts He said he was only the fifth Black conductor to do so.

She told The New York Times at the time that she felt her race was both a help and a hindrance.

“I have a great little career now,” he said, “but I also know that sometimes it’s because being around me as an African-American is to an organization’s advantage. I see what others my age are doing, and I see more star-studded careers that I have no doubts would have had if I weren’t Black.”

lack of diversity has long characterized the classical music world. A 2014 study found that only 1.8 percent of players on top teams were Black and only 2.5 percent Hispanic.

Mr. Morgan’s last two years in Chicago coincided with his tenure in Oakland. By then, he had been fully committed to winning over more young people, especially young Black people, who were interested in orchestral music.

“It might add one more piece to the puzzle of their lives,” he told The California Voice in 1991.

The highlight of any Oakland season was Mr. Morgan’s annual “Let Us Break Bread Together” concert, held later in the year, which featured a plethora of music that could include gospel singers, various choirs, a klezmer band, and high school students. Each year had a theme and the spectrum was wide – Pete Seeger music in 2014; Frank Sinatra next year; music about the next Black Panthers.

“We are very conscious of social justice issues in Oakland,” Mr. Morgan told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2016. “Oakland has always been and continues to be about social change.”

James Hasler, chairman of the symphony’s board, said the look defined Mr. Morgan.

“The vision to see orchestras as service organizations was a sign locally and nationally,” he said in a statement. “This vision is his legacy.”

Mieko Hatano, executive director of the Oakland Symphony, pledged to pursue Mr. Morgan’s vision.

Dr. “Michael challenged us to speak directly to our community,” Hatano said by email. “He would say, ‘That’s not what we’re talking about. ‘Who is in the room while we address this?’ He was not a conductor with a social conscience. For Michael it was one and the same. And so the Oakland Symphony will continue.”

Mr. Morgan lives in Oakland and is survived by his mother and sister, Jacquelyn Morgan.

In late July, Mr. Morgan appeared as guest conductor with the San Francisco Symphony and presented a stunning program that included an overlooked female composer. Louise Farrenc, and a pinch of 1920s jazz.

“For San Francisco audiences,” Joshua Kosman wrote in a review In the Chronicle, “it felt like a little burst of vitality coming from across the bay all evening.”

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