February 4, 2020
San Francisco Symphony has announced the long-overdue debut of conductor Michael Morgan in a set of subscription concerts April 30 – May 2. Even better, from the standpoint of courtesy and diversity, the orchestra allowed Morgan, music director of the Oakland Symphony, to create his own program, which was originally created for Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, the conductor whose withdrawal for personal reasons brought about Morgan’s invitation.
Morgan will lead the first SF Symphony performances of Florence Price’s Symphony No. 3, a work that has deservedly come to the fore in the last few seasons. Morgan gave a smashing performance of it with his Oakland Symphony last year, which SFCV’s Steven Winn called “first-rate, by turns glossy, brash, wry, and impassioned,” and the San Francisco Chronicle’s Joshua Kosman praised as a “vivid performance of an enchanting work.” Price’s revival is worth celebrating, and surely SF Symphony patrons should be in on it by now.
Morgan is also offering the SF premiere of Carlos Simon’s AMEN!, a 13-minute powerhouse of a piece depicting a Pentecostal church service. It was commissioned and premiered by the University of Michigan Symphony Band in 2017, and dovetails perfectly with Price’s symphony in that both draw inspiration from fusing European and African American traditions.
The program opens with Cesar Franck’s Le Chasseur maudit (The cursed hunter) and includes Brahms’s Alto Rhapsody, featuring SFS debut artist Melody Wilson, who’s performed recently with Opera Theater of St. Louis and bows this season at Seattle Opera.
As SFCV readers know, Morgan was an assistant to Georg Solti at the Chicago Symphony and has been music director of the Oakland Symphony since 1991, where he has also directed and overseen the orchestra’s youth ensemble. While delivering solid interpretations of the classics, he has consistently championed a wide variety of musicians of different ethnicities and musical backgrounds. His distinctive programs, such as the “Notes From ...” series, have broken barriers and challenged ideas of what an orchestra might possibly do or include. He is in every way an inspiration and SF Symphony was wise just to let him do what he does best.