September 5, 2018
The Oakland Symphony under Music Director Michael Morgan has become a professional orchestra in service to a community. The 2018-19 season vividly illustrates how Morgan’s “play everything we credibly can” strategy translates into offerings that engage a wider-than-normal slice of the city’s residents. By design, the iconoclastic, thematically tight programming could never be replicated anywhere else.
After a season opener, on Oct. 12, that includes Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Stewart Goodyear, the audience choice winner of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, and a suite of dances from centenarian Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town, the rubber hits the city streets.
The concert on Nov. 12 is in memory of those who died in the “Ghost Ship” fire in 2016. A new commission, Requiem for Ghost Ship, by Richard Marriott, founder of the Club Foot Orchestra among other things, is the centerpiece. The Brahms Requiem, with soloists Patricia Westley and Robert Sims, powers the rest of the evening.
The sold-out-well-in-advance holiday concert, “Let Us Break Bread Together,” features the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir as always and convenes on December 16. This year’s concert pays tribute to Nina Simone and Fats Domino.
The “Notes From …” series continues Jan. 25, 2019 with a concert celebrating the African diaspora. From a wide field of possibilities, Morgan has chosen Harlem, Duke Ellington’s elegy to his adopted hometown, Florence Price’s Symphony No. 3 (1940) by a composer whose rediscovery may (with luck) lead to more performances, and an 18th-century symphony by Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint George. Born on a Guadalupe plantation, Boulogne led an all-black regiment fighting on the side of the French Revolution, was a fearsome duelist, a fine dancer invited to many of Paris’s great salons, and … oh yeah, the best-known classical composer of African descent in his era.
Last year’s inaugural “Playlist” concert, in which local heroes pick their favorite music and the Symphony finds a way to present it all live, was reportedly a hit. This year, Dolores Huerta, co-founder of United Farm Workers and coiner of the slogan “Yes, we can” joins Morgan onstage on Feb. 22.
“I Lift Up My Voice” (Mar. 22) begins with Jessie Montgomery’s Banner, which weaves “The Star-Spangled Banner” together with various spirituals and the anthems of Mexico and Puerto Rico. That’s followed by Leonard Bernstein’s Songfest, sung by several of S.F. Opera’s Adler Fellows, and the Third Symphony of Frenchwoman Louise Farrenc, from 1847, one of the few women of her time to be recognized as a composer.
The season concludes with West Side Story on May 10. More than just a celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s life and career, it’s the logical capstone to a season of strong political and social statements.