Remembering Michael Morgan

Festival Opera celebrates the life of Michael Morgan, our former Artistic Director, Maestro, collaborator, and champion. Michael died peacefully on August 20, 2021, at Oakland Kaiser where he had been admitted last week for an infection. He was 63. In May of this year, Michael underwent successful kidney transplant surgery at UCSF. He resumed conducting last month for the San Francisco Symphony and Bear Valley Music Festival.

Michael was born in Washington, D.C., 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 addition to his duties with Festival Opera and the Oakland Symphony, Maestro Morgan served as Artistic Director of Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra, Music Director at Bear Valley Music Festival, and Music Director of Gateways Music Festival. He was Music Director Emeritus of the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera and was on the boards of Oaktown Jazz Workshops and the Purple Silk Music Education Foundation.

In 2020, he began an association with the San Francisco Symphony as the first curator of their Currents online series, and he recently led the Orchestra on July 23 at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco in what the San Francisco Chronicle’s Joshua Kosman said, “Some conductors use a guest appearance with a major orchestra as an opportunity to show what they can do. Michael Morgan uses it to show what the orchestra can do. I like his way better.”

Festival Opera General Director Zachary Gordin writes: “Michael has been the most inspirational and supportive figure in my career. From him, I learned the importance of meaningful programming, community building, and nurturing artists - while maintaining excellence. Working closely with Michael for 16 years as a soloist with his orchestras, in opera productions, as my mentor and close collaborator, I was constantly inspired by his ability to bring people together with his music and heart. When he brought me to Festival Opera for Tosca in 2006, I had no idea how the culture of the company he lovingly elevated would impact me.  I will miss my dear friend immensely, carry his torch forward, and work to realize his vision for our community.”

Michael Morgan is survived by his mother Mabel Morgan, and sister Jacquelyn Morgan. A memorial service will be announced in the near future.

- Biographical material courtesy of Oakland Symphony - oaklandsymphony.org