Watch CBS News

Michael Morgan, Longtime Oakland Symphony Conductor, Dead at 63

OAKLAND (CBS SF/BCN) -- Michael Morgan, longtime conductor and music director for the Oakland Symphony, died Friday, according to symphony officials. He was 63.

He died peacefully at an Oakland hospital, which had admitted him recently for an infection.

Following a successful kidney transplant in May, Morgan had resumed conducting last month for the Bear Valley Music Festival and San Francisco Symphony.

"Our entire organization is grieving a profound loss," said Jim Hasler, the Oakland Symphony's board chair, in a statement. "Michael's impact on our community and the national orchestra field cannot be overstated - and he has left us too soon."

Morgan was a native of Washington, D.C. and began conducting when he was 12 years old. He attended Oberlin Conservatory of Music and one summer studied under Gunther Schuller and Seiji Ozawa at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood in western Massachusetts.

That same summer Morgan worked with Leonard Bernstein for the first time.

Michael Morgan, in an undated photo, conducting the Oakland Symphony in Oakland, Calif. (Photo credit: Alexander Kim).

Morgan made his operatic debut in 1982 with the Vienna State Opera, conducting Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio" and in 1986, he became assistant conductor for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Chosen by Sir Georg Solti for the job in Chicago, Morgan held the position for seven years under Solti and Daniel Barenboim.

Morgan made his debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1986 following an invitation by Bernstein. He started as music director and conductor of the Oakland Symphony in 1991.

"This is a terribly sad moment for everyone in the Oakland Symphony family. We have lost our guiding father," said Executive Director Mieko Hatano, in a statement.

"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," Hatano added.

Morgan had other responsibilities as well. He served as artistic director for the Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra, music director at the Bear Valley Music Festival and music director of the Gateways Music Festival.

He also was music director emeritus of the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera and served on the boards of the Purple Silk Music Education Foundation and Oaktown Jazz Workshops.

Last year, Morgan started curating the San Francisco Symphony's "Currents" online series and last month led that symphony at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco.

"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," Hasler said.

"His vision of orchestras as service organizations was a beacon locally and nationally," Hasler added.

Symphony officials said Morgan's programming brought in new audience members, with many returning for more concerts. W. Kamau Bell and Dolores Huerta were invited to share the music that shaped their values and lives.

"He fashioned a unique, informed artistic profile that attracted one of the most diverse audiences in the nation," Hatano said. "His music reflected his beliefs: reverence for the past, attuned to the future, rooted in his adopted home of Oakland."

Morgan is survived by his mother Mabel Morgan and sister Jacquelyn Morgan. The time and place for a memorial service will be announced soon.

© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.