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The Bay Area arts and culture community mourns the news that Michael Morgan, longtime music director and conductor of the Oakland Symphony, passed away last Friday at the age of 63. This fall would have been Morgan’s 30th anniversary as director of the orchestra.
Throughout his career, Morgan influenced the countless local musicians who performed under his tutelage, as well as the wider Oakland community. He is known for his happy laugh, passion for music education, and commitment to social justice.
“This is a terribly sad moment for everyone in the Oakland Symphony family. We have lost our leading father, ”said managing director Mieko Hatano.
Early last week, the Oakland Symphony announced that Morgan had to resign from leading the expected free Summer Stage concerts in the Brooklyn Basin because he was hospitalized with an infection. Morgan had a kidney transplant in May. In his place, guest conductor John Kendall Bailey opened the opening show.
However, Maestro Morgan has made several public appearances recently, including guest conductor of the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall on July 23 and at the Bear Valley Music Festival on July 29 and August 1.
Here’s what else is going on in Oakland:
“We are honored to have had this experience,” the Bear Valley Music Festival board wrote in a statement. “Michael made an indelible mark on Bear Valley forever and will be terribly missed.”
Oaklandside had the opportunity to speak to Morgan earlier this year about the work of the Oakland Symphony in promoting social justice and reinforcing voices through its programming. He saw his work as a way to bring people of all backgrounds together in a room where people of color were often excluded.
A barrage of heartfelt messages about Morgan’s influence and impact has flooded social media in the past few days. Here are a few.
Pull quote: “Michael had a high-pitched, sonorous, resounding laugh that often broke into a conversation, sometimes at unpredictable times. It was happy and silly; it was not remotely dignified. It didn’t sound like what you would expect from the mouth of an orchestra conductor. “
San Francisco Chronicle music critic Joshua Kosman
“The maestro mysticism never meant much to Michael. Give him some music and some good conversation and the laughter would start. “
I had a few personal memories of Michael Morgan who died today. I already miss him terribly. https://t.co/YrsHOK66uc
– Joshua Kosman (@JoshuaKosman) August 21, 2021
“The master teacher, education officer, visionary curator, mentor, and the man who took the soul, spirit, diversity, and valor of Oakland’s social justice and turned it into an orchestra to serve the community.”
Musician, activist and educator Kev Choice
“I can’t describe how much Maestro Michael Morgan meant to me and how much working with him influenced me on far too many levels.”
Singer-songwriter Diana Gameros
“He was determined to make sure symphonies were there for everyone. And he really understood how important that was in Oakland. “
W Kamau Bell
“His orchestra brought the world of music to Oakland and Oakland to the world.”
Oakland Mayor, Libby Schaaf
Michael Morgan, an Oakland icon, has blessed our city for 30 years as Music Director + Conductor of the Oakland Symphony. His orchestra brought the world of music to Oakland and Oakland to the world. On Monday the flag will be hoisted over the town hall in his honor. https://t.co/Re9knj7hyC pic.twitter.com/O2Mf6X2MX0
– Libby Schaaf (@LibbySchaaf) August 21, 2021
“He was a musical visionary whose brilliance enlightened our congregation for 30 years.”
The Oakland Ballet offers its deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the late Michael Morgan. He was a musical visionary whose brilliance enlightened our church for 30 years. We deeply mourn his death and celebrate his genius.
Photo by David DeSilva pic.twitter.com/Nlv6z3d2NH
– Oakland Ballet (@oaklandballetco) August 21, 2021
“A talented and generous musician who used his gifts to change who and what classical music is for – who saw art as an opportunity to serve others.”
“An ally. A fighter. A creator. “
Oakland Underground Station
“Right now, my brain just can’t imagine Oakland without Michael Morgan. I know I am not alone. “
Adam Theis, director of the Jazz Mafia
“May the beauty of his legacy continue to inspire us.”
Matthew Shilvock, music director of the San Francisco Opera
Heartbroken, I learn of Michael Morgan’s death. He brought such humanity to music and exuded joy in everything he shared. May the beauty of his heritage continue to inspire us. I will forever be inspired by his dedication to sharing music in the most authentic way possible. https://t.co/agkLu9pecF
– Matthew Shilvock (@MatthewShilvock) August 21, 2021
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