Wednesday, August 31, 2011 Michael Morgan says OEBS 'reflects the East Bay in the diversity of its programming'

[Michael Morgan, Conductor]

Maestro Michael Morgan has been featured on AfriClassical many times for his imaginative projects. For example, on Oct. 31, 2010 AfriClassical posted: “'Street Scene: music by Kurt Weill; lyrics by Langston Hughes; book by Elmer Rice' Oakland East Bay Symphony, 5/13/11.” Today Maestro Morgan's comprehensive approach to diversity is examined in a detailed article in the East bay Express. Here is an excerpt:

East Bay Express
August 31, 2011
Special Sections » Fall Arts
The Oakland organization reaches out to diverse audiences with its programming and education. By Jason Victor Serinus
In an era in which symphony orchestras speak of community outreach as frequently as mice chase cheese, the Oakland East Bay Symphony (OEBS) puts its money where its mouth is. Fully one third of its annual budget is devoted to education and community outreach. The symphony's orientation has shifted radically in the 21 years that Michael Morgan has served as music director. The second gay African American at the organization's helm — the first, the gifted Calvin Simmons, died in a freak boating accident at an early age — Morgan has guided the organization from its more traditional role as the Oakland Symphony to its current orientation as an Oakland East Bay Symphony that speaks to the entire population of the East Bay.

When Morgan states, "The Oakland East Bay Symphony reflects the East Bay in the diversity of its programming, and by serving the community where it needs to be served," he is not reading from a press release. You need only look at OEBS' unique audience demographic to recognize that its intensive community-building and outreach efforts have helped build a trend-bucking, multi-faceted audience.

According to OEBS Marketing Director Debbi Hersh, in 1998, when symphony attendees responded to an audience survey, 90 percent identified as Caucasian. In a 2003 online survey distributed to OEBS' mailing list, 78 percent identified as Caucasian. By 2008, the Caucasian percentage of online respondees had dropped to 73 percent. A full 18 percent identified as members of other ethnic groups, and 9 percent chose not to answer the question.

While no one is claiming scientific accuracy here — not all people on the OEBS mailing list actually attend concerts — any way you look at it, OEBS is far ahead of other American orchestras, whose average audience is 95 percent white. In a city such as Oakland, which vies with Long Beach as the most ethnically diverse in the United States, the presence of so many ethnic minorities in the OEBS audience indicates that the entire community values its gifts.
But audience numbers are only part of the story. OEBS' annual concert season, which is exceptionally diverse and exciting, and its many educational efforts, also set it apart from the pack. In the last few years, the orchestra has intensified its efforts to reach out to specific segments of the community. While most OEBS programs mix traditional orchestral and choral offerings with unusual music, the pieces chosen increasingly reflect the East Bay's rainbow ethnicity.

After past concerts honoring the area's Persian and Armenian populations, this season's "Notes from the Philippines" (April 20) puts Filipinos in the spotlight. Even the evening's "traditional" offering, Antonin Dvorák's great, heart-tugging Cello Concerto, honors the Filipino community with the choice of Filipino/Jewish American and Oakland native David Requiro as soloist. A graduate of the Crowden School, alum of the San Francisco Youth Orchestra, and recipient of the OEBS junior division Young Artists Competition some years back, Requiro has used his first prizes in the prestigious 2008 Naumburg International Violincello Competition (when he was 23) and three other major competitions to launch an international career.

After the Dvorák comes the first composition for classical orchestra from Filipino-North American jazz pianist Victor Noriega. Morgan learned of Noriega from Carlos Ziálcita, producer of San Francisco's annual Filipino-American Jazz Festival. Noriega was still formulating his ideas for the piece at press time, but was pretty certain that it would reflect both his cultural background and jazz roots. He points to his 2006 CD, Alay, whose jazz interpretation of Filipino folk songs won a jazz award in Seattle, as possibly indicative of his direction.

Commissioning new works from artists immersed in other musical disciplines is nothing new for OEBS. Over the past few years, their New Vistas/New Visions initiative, sponsored by the Irvine Foundation, premiered commissions from four California artists: Scott Amendola, Benedikt Brydern, Rebeca Mauleón, and Narada Michael Walden (with no less a personage than Carlos Santana on guitar). Jazz, rock, Afro-Cuban, and electronica have already danced together on the stage of the Paramount Theatre.

Other concerts this year include "New World A-Comin'" (November 4), which mixes works by Gershwin, Bernstein, and Ginastera with one by Duke Ellington that foresees the end of oppression and racism; and the annual "Let Us Break Bread Together" holiday celebration, whose melting pot of artists includes the Oakland Symphony Chorus, Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Mt. Eden High School Choir, the klezmer band Kugelplex, and the great Joan Baez. [The jazz and classical composer Duke Ellington (1899-1974) is featured at]

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