Currently in his 14th year as music director of the Oakland East Bay Symphony (OEBS), Michael Morgan has led an impressive turnabout of a once-troubled orchestra and inspired a broad revitalization of the musical landscape in the East Bay. From middle school visits and young musician tutorials to symphony and opera rehearsals, Spark tries to keep up with Morgan and his busy schedule.
Born in 1957 in Washington DC, Morgan began conducting at age 12 while attending public school. While a student at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, Morgan spent a summer at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, where he studied under Gunther Shuller and Seiji Ozawa and worked with Leonard Bernstein. In 1980, he won first prize in the Hans Swarovsky International Conductors Competition in Vienna, and later went on to become the assistant conductor at the St. Louis and Chicago symphony orchestras and conductor at the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra.
In September 1990, Morgan was named music director at the OEBS, which was founded in 1988 when musicians from the former Oakland Symphony and the Oakland Symphony League joined together to form a new orchestra. Besides being music director at OEBS, Morgan serves as artistic director of the Oakland Youth Orchestra, Music Director at the Sacramento Philharmonic, and Artistic Director of Festival Opera in Walnut Creek. As if his schedule were not hectic enough, he also makes appearances as a guest conductor with orchestras throughout the United States including the New York Philharmonic.
In the episode “Leaders,” Spark follows Morgan as he juggles conducting the Oakland East Bay Symphony, working with young musicians such as those in Randy Porter’s class at Westlake Middle School in Oakland, and helping promising, young musicians get private music lessons with instructors like Debbra Schwartz. Each year, Morgan makes more than 100 visits to public schools to speak about the importance of arts education, as well as about minority participation in the arts.