Oakland Symphony’s Big, Ambitious 2019 – 2020 Season

Janos Gereben on June 3, 2019
Michael Morgan with the Oakland Symphony | Courtesy Oakland Symphony

Oakland Symphony has announced a large, varied schedule for the next season, unusually ambitious and short on popular standards for an orchestra with a budget under $3 million (the “regional” classification is no longer used).

From the opening concert in the Paramount Theater on Oct. 11, with jazz and grand opera, to the season-closing one on May 15, 2020, with a symphony by Amy Beach, and an oratorio about the Underground Railroad, Oakland Symphony is covering more ground than most “major” orchestras.

Take the Feb. 22, 2020, concert as an example of meaningful and adventurous programming: It offers Steve Martland’s Crossing the Border for double string orchestra and ballet dancers, Vivaldi’s Concerto for Three Violins in F, and Mahler’s The Song of the Earth with string instruments from the Violins of Hope project.

“Violins of Hope”/Mahler’s Song of the Earth is on the orchestra’s schedule | Credit: Violins of Hope

The instruments belonged to inmates in Holocaust concentration camps, confiscated as the musicians were taken to gas chambers, the saved ones now used with reverence in great orchestras around the world. The Song of the Earth connection is that Gustav Mahler’s niece, Alma Rosé, was the conductor of an all-women inmate orchestra. This program is part of the S.F. Bay Area Violins of Hope project, presented in association with Music at Kohl Mansion, in Burlingame.

The Oct. 11 opening concert consists of the mighty Prologue from Boito’s Mefistofele, with the Oakland Symphony Chorus and children’s chorus; and a new composition and performance by pianist Taylor Eigsti and trumpeter Josiah Woodson.

On Nov. 15, the announcement calls for unspecified “music of Korea” and an unnamed Korean keyboard artist playing the solo in the Grieg Piano Concerto, without further information available.

The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir is featured on “Let Us Break Bread Together” | Credit: Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir

More information is available about the next concert, on Dec. 15: the orchestra’s famous “Let Us Break Bread Together” program is paired with the music of Aretha Franklin, featuring the Jazz Mafia, Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Mt. Eden High School Concert Choir, Oakland Symphony Chorus, and more.

Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson curates the concert on Jan. 24, 2020. He is the third prominent person in that role, following playlists by W. Kamau Bell and Dolores Huerta. Of the program, the announcement says “Tyson’s playlist will present a wide range of his musical influences, performed by Oakland Symphony and conducted by Music Director Michael Morgan with special guests.”

Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson curates one of the Oakland Symphony programs | Credit: Oakland Symphony

After the Violins of Hope set, the next concert, on March 20, 2020, has Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1936 Symphony No. 4, suppressed by the Soviet government for a quarter century before it could be performed in Russia.

At the same concert, the winner of the Sphinx Competition of Emerging Artists will be featured in a yet-to-be-announced concerto. The competition is held every year in Detroit, open to junior-high, high-school, and college-age black and Latinx string players residing in the U.S.

The Oakland Symphony Chorus Spring Concert — not part of the orchestra’s subscription series — takes place on April 18, 2020, in Cathedral of Christ the Light, led by Lynne Morrow.

The season-closing concert features Amy Beach’s Symphony No. 2, Gaelic, a work contemporary with Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony, and an epic oratorio by Paul Moravec and Mark Campbell based on the writings of William Still, the hero of the Underground Railroad.

Led by Omid Zoufonoun, the Oakland Youth Orchestra will give free concerts on Nov. 17 (in the Castro Valley Center for the Arts), Feb. 23, 2020 (in the San Leandro High School Performing Arts Center), and May 17, 2020 (in the El Cerrito High School Auditorium).