Michael Morgan, Oakland Symphony Music Director and Conductor for 30 years, Passes Away, Age 63.
It is with a breaking heart that we inform you that Michael Morgan, Music Director and Conductor of Oakland Symphony since 1991, died peacefully today, August 20, 2021 at Oakland Kaiser where he had been admitted last week for an infection. He was 63.
In May of this year, Michael Morgan underwent successful kidney transplant surgery at UCSF. He resumed conducting last month for the San Francisco Symphony and Bear Valley Music Festival.
Micahel was born in Washington, D.C., where he attended public schools and began conducting at the age of 12. While a student at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, he spent a summer at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, studying with Gunther Schuller and Seiji Ozawa. He first worked with Leonard Bernstein during that same summer. His operatic debut was in 1982 at the Vienna State Opera, conducting Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio. In 1986, Sir Georg Solti chose him to become the Assistant Conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a position he held for seven years under both Solti and Daniel Barenboim. In 1986, he was invited by Leonard Bernstein to make his debut with the New York Philharmonic. As guest conductor, Morgan has appeared with most of America’s major orchestras, as well as the New York City Opera, St. Louis Opera Theater, and Washington National Opera.
In addition to his duties with the Oakland Symphony, Maestro Morgan served as Artistic Director of Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra, Music Director at Bear Valley Music Festival, and Music Director of Gateways Music Festival. He was Music Director Emeritus of the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera and was on the boards of Oaktown Jazz Workshops and the Purple Silk Music Education Foundation.
In 2020, he began an association with the San Francisco Symphony as the first curator of their Currents online series, and he recently led the Orchestra on July 23 at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco in what the San Francisco Chronicle’s Joshua Kosman said, “Some conductors use a guest appearance with a major orchestra as an opportunity to show what they can do. Michael Morgan uses it to show what the orchestra can do. I like his way better.”
His programming engaged new audiences and many returned for subsequent concerts. Notable personalities like W. Kamau Bell and Dolores Huerta were invited to share the “Playlist” of music that shaped their lives and values. Michael’s “Notes From…” concerts explored the music and musicians of such specific communities as Vietnam, Korea, Native American and LGBTQ+. “Lost Romantics” gave deserving, neglected works of the late 19th century a new hearing. And “American Masterworks” presented performances of such seminal stage works as “West Side Story,” “Candide,” “Street Scene,” “Porgy and Bess,” and “Show Boat.” The San Francisco Chronicle proclaimed, “In his 30 years as music director of the Oakland Symphony, Morgan has made that orchestra a vibrant hotbed for innovative programming.”
“Our entire organization is grieving a profound loss,” Jim Hasler, the Symphony’s Board Chair said. “Michael’s impact on our community and the national orchestra field cannot be overstated – and he has left us too soon. We have been blessed over the past 30 years, as Michael built the foundations of an Oakland Symphony dedicated to diversity, education, artistic collaboration and a celebration of music across genres and cultures. His vision of orchestras as service organizations was a beacon locally and nationally. This vision is his legacy, and the Oakland Symphony, Chorus and Youth Orchestra will renew his commitment for years to come.”
“This is a terribly sad moment for everyone in the Oakland Symphony family. We have lost our guiding father,” said Executive Director Mieko Hatano. “Michael’s plans and ambitions were set for several seasons to come. He made his Orchestra socially authentic, demanded equality, and he made his Orchestra our orchestra. He fashioned a unique, informed artistic profile that attracted one of the most diverse audiences in the nation. His music reflected his beliefs: reverence for the past, attuned to the future, rooted in his adopted home of Oakland. His spirit will always guide the enduring future of the Oakland Symphony.”
Michael Morgan is survived by his mother Mabel Morgan, and sister Jacquelyn Morgan. A memorial service will be announced in the near future.
Join us in sharing Michael’s light by making a donation today in his memory. You will guarantee that Michael Morgan’s artistic vision for the Oakland Symphony plays on.