Continues uniting Communities with "CURRENTS"

An Exclusive Interview by Iride Aparicio

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Maestro Michael Morgan                      Photo Credit: Pat Johnson

Photos and video courtesy: San Francisco Symphony

SILICON VALLEY-- "Music is an expression beyond words. Music begins, where words end, so, you can't even put a definition of Music into words. I believe that it is terribly important to have Music in our lives, no matter what type of Music people listens to, because we can express ourselves with Music and everyone needs self expression. We all need to get further into life...but also escape from it."

The words in the above paragraph, is the Music's description that Maestro MICHAEL MORGAN, Music Director of the Oakland symphony and Host Curator of the CURRENTS Series for the San Francisco's symphony, used in a telephone interview, to describe Music, the art which he had mastered. We continue our interview.

C.W.B:  As a conductor, Maestro Morgan, how do you interpret the music you direct?

M.M.: "I think it is a combination, first and foremost, on what all the great composers had left us (written) on the page and filtering through our own experiences, which is the reason why not two people, doing the same piece, will make it sound exactly the same. Directing, is simply trying to convey (to an audience) what composers had left for us, because we (conductors) are really trying to do, is to transmit what the composers of the music wanted."

C.W.B: What you, as conductor, try to convey to the audience when you direct a piece of  classical music, is it based on what the composer wrote on the page  or   on how you think that the piece should sound?  

M.M.: "In older music, when we don't have a record on how the composer, or the people at the time, wanted the piece to sound, it is really a combination of what it is written on the page and what you know about the period  (How the music "sounded" at that particular period of time), But I  think that it is more important to convey what is written on the page, rather than try to play a piece because you think that's how it should go."

"I always tell this to my conducting students: If there is a conflict between what it is on the page and what you have always heard, make it sound as the music is written on the page, because in my experience, what it is written on the page is 99 out of a hundred times better than what you heard, because in what you heard, (most of the time recordings) the instrumentation of the orchestra may have been different.  So, thinking how music is "supposed" to sound is always "an educated guess."

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"And since we are taking about this, I remember the times when I have heard famous conductors of Beethoven's Nine Symphony doing things that, in my opinion, where not justified not only for what was written on the page, but because of what we know about the music during the period. So, there is a range in which you (the conductor) can interpret a piece, but to go outside that range, I may consider it bad taste."

C.W.W. "As a person who for years had used music to unite people, what is, in your opinion, the power in music?"

M.M.: "I think that the greatest POWER in music, is that when we hear it, we can get ourselves assimilated into every piece of music, even when we know  nothing  about  its composer or its style, or the players of the music. So, THE POWER in music, is that by showing us (something) that we all have in common, it UNIFIES people. . "

C.W.W. I know that your new project is trying to UNIFY the people of San Francisco with CURRENTS. Could you tell us something about it?

M.M.: " CURRENTS" is really something that happened when the San Francisco Symphony came to ask me if I could do something for them similar to what we are doing here in Oakland, where we have a series called "NOTES FROM," where we talk about music from the different segments of our community. So, we got "NOTES FROM CHINA" from, ARMENIA, from THE MIDDLE EAST, .where we (The Oakland Symphony) plays the music from those countries. We have done dozens of those shows using the music from the different communities. On time, all this music from around the world is having an impact on both, what the orchestra does, in this case, The Oakland Symphony, and on those people who believe that the orchestra's repertory ought to be diversified. It is not, that the OAKLAND's orchestra had stopped playing the great European masters' works, but that the orchestra is now making a connection with the people, as orchestras did in the past."

C.W.B. So CURRENTS was your idea?

M.M. "I can say yes, because we have been doing this in Oakland for several years and now S.F. is now doing a version of it with the San Francisco Symphony, ONLINE, because we are dealing with the COVID restrictions so obviously, it has to be done ONLINE instead of a LIVE concert."

CURRENTS is a four-part video series and accompanying podcasts, featuring music and conversations around the changing perspectives of symphonies today. The program is created by Maestro MORGAN and includes the musicians of the San Francisco Symphony and further learning and exploration led by DANIEL BARTHOLOMEW-POYSER. The episode IV of CURRENTS, !VIVA MEXICO! present and explores the Mexican Culture in a show about Life and about identity in and interconnected narrative of Latin America multi-generation music culture. The program includes the Bay Area musical ensemble LOS CENZONTLES, members of the San Francisco Symphony and Maestro MORGAN as a host. You can watch CURRENTS, VIVA MEXICO at

C.W.B. Is there something you would like to add about CURRENTS?

M.M. Yes. That CURRENTS is bringing together the players from the symphony and the people who are experts in other kinds of music and may be virtuosos in their other kinds of music. So, it is a win win situation, because, as musicians, the S.F. symphony players are able to do a lots of "other" things musically, (when playing the different music) and that has created respect, in them, from a different type of music. On their part, those musicians who play the other genres of music are also learning respect for the music played by the S.F. symphony players.

C.W.B. And to finish our interview, may I ask you, Maestro MORGAN, what attracted the teenager MICHAEL MORGAN to classical music at the time when most teenagers were into Rock?

"I have been asked that same question from time to time," he tells us laughing. "But as you can see for what I am doing, and for what I do, now I certainly like different types of music. But what most attracted me to classical music was its complexity and also because it was not, what everybody else was interested in at the time. My tendency is to be someone contrary in what people are interested in, because being contrary, makes things more interesting. "

Being contrary, as he calls himself, made possible for conductor MICHAEL MORGAN to be able to start conducting an orchestra at the age of 12 when attending the D.C. Youth Orchestra Program in Washington D.C. and to have a number of Honors, including the prestigious Governors Award for Community Service by the San Francisco Chapter of the Recording Academy (2005). As one of its five Music Award recipients by ASCAP, (2005) To further honor  the Oakland East Bay Symphony (in 2006)  with its Award for Adventurous Programming, To win the Community Leadership Award for the San Francisco Foundation, and an Honorary Doctorate from Holy Names University in Oakland CA.
As Dr. Morgan and Conductor, MORGAN has served as Board Member on the boards of the League of American Orchestras, the International House at the University of California, Berkeley, and the National Guild of Community Schools of Arts. Currently he is on the Boards of the Purple Silk Music Education Foundation, the Oaktown Jazz Workshops and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute.