Saturday, September 3, 2011

Oakland Tribune: Harold Lawrence Dies at 88; 'recruited a young, dynamic conductor...Calvin E. Simmons'

[Calvin E. Simmons]

By Janko Tietz
Oakland Tribune
Posted: 09/02/2011
“There are not many people in Oakland who had such an illustrious circle of friends and colleagues from around the world as Harold Lawrence. Known as one of the world's most important classical music producers, Lawrence worked with conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, Polish-born pianist Arthur Rubinstein, Russian-born piano-virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz and Berlin-born pianist and conductor Andre Previn, to name a few. Lawrence died Aug. 22 from a blood disorder. He was 88.”

“It was in New York where Edgar Kaiser persuaded Lawrence to come to Oakland as president and general manager of the Oakland Symphony. Again, Lawrence recruited a young, dynamic conductor and musical director, Calvin E. Simmons...”

On Dec. 3, 2007 ran an article by Angela Woodall, staff writer, entitled:
“City's symphony rose and fell with Calvin Simmons”.
Here are some excerpts:

“Calvin Simmons was like a meteor when he arrived to conduct the Oakland Symphony Orchestra. He had talent, charisma and his heavy-lidded, doe-like eyes gave him a romantic charm. The 6-foot-1-inch boy wonder of the classical music scene became the second — and youngest — African American to be named conductor of a major U.S. symphony orchestra at the stunningly young age of 28.

“Just four years later, he was dead at the achingly young age of 32. Several seasons later, the struggling symphony he had galvanized was bankrupt. On the 25th anniversary of his 1982 death in a boating accident, the Oakland Tribune looks back at his legacy, the demise and rebirth of the symphony and the struggle to support large-scale classical venues in Oakland, a city overshadowed by San Francisco and better known as the home of MC Hammer and Hyphy.”

“His career future looked stellar when Lawrence first encountered him as an assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and brought him back to the Bay Area in 1978. Lawrence, however, had to overcome resistance back in Oakland to hiring a black conductor to direct a symphony. 'It was a racial thing,' Lawrence recalled in a recent interview.

“When Simmons was chosen as the symphony's fifth director in its 45-year span he became the first black conductor of a professional symphony west of the Mississippi. He was preceded as the first, nationally, by Henry Lewis of the New Jersey Symphony (1958-66).”

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