Oakland Symphony, which broke the mold in 1978 by naming 28-year old Calvin Simmons as the youngest and only the second Black music director of a major orchestra in the country (after Henry Lewis and the New Jersey Symphony), has never stopped making news.
Now the orchestra is seeking a successor to the late Michael Morgan and inviting six young conductors who reflect the community’s diversity to create the 2022–2023 season. This will be Oakland’s 89th, counting from its founding in 1933, including the “Oakland East Bay Symphony” interlude, and disregarding strikes and shutdowns.
“The next chapter of the Oakland Symphony has begun,” says Executive Director Dr. Mieko Hatano. “The programs for the coming season have been built to engage and enthrall. Each reflects what the orchestra stands for, and each is [a] programming statement of the individual conductors. There is a concert for anyone, and a season for everyone.”
The conductors and their programs:
— Oct. 14: In his first season as music director of the Omaha Symphony, Ankush Kumar Bahl will lead the Oakland players for the season’s opening night concert with a performance of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique. The program also includes Jack Perla’s commissioned One for the Archangel and Chen Yi’s Golden Flute with flutist Demarre McGill.
— Nov. 4: Born in Seoul and raised in Los Angeles, Holly Hyun Choe will lead the Oakland Symphony in a program of Erich Korngold’s Much Ado About Nothing Suite, Mary Lou Williams’s Zodiac Suite, Caroline Shaw’s To the Hands, and Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. Pianist Aaron Diehl and the Oakland Symphony Chorus participate in the program.
Choe is the first female music director of the Universitätsorchester Polyphonia Zürich, and she is also a fellow at the Deutscher Musikrat Dirigentenforum in Germany, an organization geared to help rising conductors.
— Jan. 27, 2023: Andrew Grams will lead the orchestra in “Rooted in America,” with pianist Sara Davis Buechner performing Florence Price’s Five Folk Songs in Counterpoint and George Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody, with William Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony also on the program.
The former music director of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra in Illinois, Grams served as assistant conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra, where he worked with Franz Welser-Möst.
— Feb. 24, 2023: Vinay Parameswaran conducts “Notes From California,” a program of three works related to the Golden State. Two are by contemporary composers Gabriella Smith (her Tumblebird Contrails in its Bay Area premiere) and Reena Esmail (The History of Red), added to Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, one of the many masterworks from Beverly Hills’ enclave of exiled artists in the 1940s.
Parameswaran is in his fifth and final season as associate conductor (initially assistant conductor) of The Cleveland Orchestra and music director of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra.
— March 24, 2023: Berkeley Symphony Music Director Joseph Young leads a “Romeo and Juliet” program with the collaboration of Cal Shakes. The program includes Lera Auerbach’s Icarus, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, and music from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.
Besides his position with Berkeley Symphony, Young is artistic director of ensembles for the Peabody Conservatory and resident conductor of the National Youth Orchestra-USA at Carnegie Hall.
— May 5, 2023: Now in his eighth season as music director of The Phoenix Symphony, Tito Muñoz will lead the orchestra in the program “Songs of Protest,” featuring the Oakland Symphony Chorus, mezzo-soprano Melody Wilson, and tenor Taylor Stayton. The program includes Beethoven’s “Leonore” Overture No. 3, Samuel Barber’s Second Essay for Orchestra, and the Oakland Symphony commission and world premiere of Martin Rokeach’s Bodies on the Line: The Great Flint Sit-Down Strike.
All concerts are in the Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Oakland. For information and tickets, visit Oakland Symphony’s website, or call the box office at (510) 444-0802.