Oakland East Bay Symphony Director Resonates with City in Tumult

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November 3, 2011; Source: The Bay Citizen | Michael Morgan, music director of the Oakland East Bay Symphony, says he “deserved some kind of Nostradamus award” for programming “The Age of Anxiety” into the orchestra’s concert on Friday, the opening of its 2011–12 season. The piece is based on a poem by W.H. Auden about lives fractured by war, and, of course, is being presented as the Occupy Oakland protests have heated up past boiling point. The article says that this alignment of music to the times “does not point to any occult powers of prognostication but to a natural harmony with the social and cultural currents of Oakland.” Morgan is, however, something of an anomaly—a 2011 survey revealed that in a field of 300 orchestras, there are only 9 African-American musical directors. But, as he notes, being outside the mainstream of his field has been a profound influence on his approach to directing.

Everything we do is a reflection of Oakland,” Morgan said. “And like many big places, Oakland is a fractious community. The thing I find most interesting about orchestras is using them to bring the town together. That’s why our programming is kind of wacky sometimes. We want the fans of this music and that music, who may never see each other in real life, to come and watch a concert together . . . All of my ideas about bringing people together come from seeing myself as outsider. Being black in what’s considered a white music culture, being gay in a straight culture. Everything to me is about asking, “How do you use your outsider status to bring more people together?”

 “The Age of Anxiety” will feature the acclaimed pianist Sara Davis Buechner, Morgan’s longtime friend and colleague, who was once David Buechner.

Says Morgan, “we have a black conductor, a transgendered pianist, and we’re playing Bernstein, Duke and Gershwin. What more could you possibly want?”—Ruth McCambridge