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August 22, 2021

By Don Roth, Executive Director of the Mondavi Center

Like Loren Maazel and James Levine and Fred Hersch , Michael Morgan was someone whose connection to music began when his age was in single digits.  He conducted the Sacramento Philharmonic twice on Mondavi Center stages, once in a new piece by Andre Previn in honor of Wayne Thiebaud and once when he introduced a young Lawrence Brownlee to our audiences.  I first worked with him when he was very young and conducted an outdoor concert for the Hartford Symphony (early '80s) where I was the executive director. I particularly remember the Mahler 5 he conducted with the Sac Phil (Jolan Friedhoff, my wife, was concertmaster) and his Beethoven symphonies in Bear Valley, especially the 5th - he was a real master with Beethoven. Ironically, the last piece I heard him conduct was the Strauss Metamorphosen which is one of Strauss’ last works and meant to be a memoriam piece at the end of WWII.  This was a concert in Bear Valley in memory of three community members (two orchestra players and one founding patron).  

When I led a seminar for UC Davis Graduate School of Management students on arts administration, Michael came up from Oakland and spoke with depth and passion about the model he was creating in Oakland for an orchestra that was deeply embedded in and relevant to his community.  (I had heard him speak earlier at a Mellon convening of orchestra leaders in San Francisco where I first comprehended the range of what he was doing to connect the Oakland Symphony to its community.)

His passing is a real loss for our musical community here in Northern California and nationally. 

Read Tim Page's obituary of Michael in the Washington Post