The Bear Valley Music Festival is devastated to let you know that Michael Morgan has died of complications from an infection following his May 2021 kidney transplant. He fought hard for his life in the Oakland Kaiser Hospital for over a week, but the infection was too serious and he succumbed on August 20, 2021.
Michael was born in Washington, DC, where he attended public schools and began conducting at the age of 12. While a student at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, he spent a summer at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, studying with Gunther Schuller and Seiji Ozawa. He first worked with Leonard Bernstein during that same summer.
His operatic debut was in 1982 at the Vienna State Opera, conducting Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio. In 1986, Sir Georg Solti chose him to become the Assistant Conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a position he held for seven years under both Solti and Daniel Barenboim. In 1986, he was invited by Leonard Bernstein to make his debut with the New York Philharmonic. As guest conductor, Morgan has appeared with most of America’s major orchestras, as well as the New York City Opera, St. Louis Opera Theater and Washington National Opera.
In fall of 2012, Maestro Morgan was named as the third Music Director of the Bear Valley Music Festival. In addition to his directorship at Oakland Symphony since 1991, Maestro Morgan serves as Artistic Director of the Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra and Music Director of Gateways Music Festival. He is Music Director Emeritus of the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera, and is on the boards of Oaktown Jazz Workshops, the Purple Silk Music Education Foundation, and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute.
In the summer of 2018, he led a national youth orchestra of students from El Sistema programs organized by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, sharing the concert with Gustavo Dudamel. He makes many appearances in the nation’s schools each year.
He was a world-renowned conductor having conducted orchestras all over the world. As guest conductor, Morgan appeared with most of America’s major orchestras including the New York City Opera, St. Louis Opera Theater and Washington National Opera. In 1986 he made his debut with the New York Philharmonic at the invitation of Leonard Bernstein. He moved to the West Coast in 1990 to serve as Music Director of the Oakland Symphony. This was to have been his celebratory 30th anniversary year with that symphony. He brought to Bear Valley not only his vast experience, but his appreciation for music of all types and desire to bring new ideas to our community. He said in his 2015 TEDx talk, “If I program things that cause people to come and sit together, that put a variety of things on the same program, then I can bring people together and start to create a community. And that’s to my mind the first thing I’ve got to do. Once you’ve got people together, you get to know each other, you see your common humanity, and you see your strength together in numbers.”
Following his recent triumphant appearance conducting the San Francisco Symphony last month, SF Chronicle music critic Joshua Kosman described Michael this way: “In his 30 years as music director of the Oakland Symphony, he’s made that orchestra a vibrant hotbed for innovative programming, combining a judicious helping of the standard repertoire with music from a wide array of less familiar sources — including, in recent seasons particularly, works by female composers who have too often been left out of the historical narrative.” Michael exposed Bear Valley audiences to under-recognized composers and artists, and we were made better for it.
After time away from Bear Valley due to the pandemic, Maestro Morgan returned to the podium for our 2021 season. He constructed a program for strings-only that delighted our audiences and he presented it with his usual charm and obvious love for the Bear Valley community. We are honored to have had that experience. Michael has left an indelible imprint on Bear Valley forever and will be terribly missed.
There have been requests to donate to Bear Valley Music Festival in Maestro Morgan’s name …. you can do this via our DONATE page.