michael morgan conducts the sf symphony

Friday, July 23, 2021
Davies Symphony Hall

Saturday, July 24, 2021
Frost Amphitheater


Michael Morgan conducting
San Francisco Symphony

Overture to La gazza ladra  1817 | 10 mins

Pas de Six from William Tell  1829 | 5 mins

Symphony No. 3 in G minor, Opus 36 1847 | 33 mins
Adagio cantabile
Scherzo: Vivace
Finale: Allegro

JAMES P. JOHNSON (orch. David Remilis, arr. Nicholas Hersh)
Charleston  1922 | 9 mins 

This program will be performed without intermission.

Lead sponsorship for the San Francisco Symphony’s concerts at Frost Amphitheater provided by The Sakurako & William Fisher Family.


Michael Morgan was born in Washington DC, where he attended public schools and began conducting at the age of twelve. While a student at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, he spent a summer at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, studying with Gunther Schuller and Seiji Ozawa. He first worked with Leonard Bernstein during that same summer. His operatic debut was in 1982 at the Vienna State Opera, conducting Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio. In 1986, Sir Georg Solti chose him to become the Assistant Conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a position he held for seven years under both Solti and Daniel Barenboim. As guest conductor, Morgan has appeared with most of America’s major orchestras, including the New York and Los Angeles philharmonics; the Philadelphia Orchestra; the National, Baltimore, Atlanta, Alabama, Houston, Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Detroit symphonies; as well as New York City Opera, Saint Louis Opera Theater, and Washington National Opera. Mr. Morgan’s ties to the San Francisco Symphony stretch back to 1994. In 2020, he was the first curator of the Symphony’s CURRENTS video series. In 2022 he will present a subscription program of works by Carlos Simon, Florence Price, Johannes Brahms, and César Franck. In addition to his duties as Music Director of the Oakland Symphony, a position he has held since 1991, Mr. Morgan serves as Artistic Director of Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra, Music Director at Bear Valley Music Festival, and Music Director of Gateways Music Festival. He is Music Director Emeritus of the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera, and is on the boards of Oaktown Jazz Workshops and the Purple Silk Music Education Foundation.

The San Francisco Symphony is widely considered to be among the most artistically adventurous and innovative arts institutions in the United States, celebrated for its artistic excellence, creative performance concepts, active touring, award-winning recordings, and standard-setting education programs. In the 2020–21 season, the San Francisco Symphony welcomes conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen as its twelfth Music Director and embarks on a new vision for the present and future of the orchestral landscape. This exciting artistic future builds on the remarkable 25-year tenure of Michael Tilson Thomas as the San Francisco Symphony’s Music Director. Tilson Thomas continues his rich relationship with the Symphony as its first Music Director Laureate. In their inaugural season together, Esa-Pekka Salonen and the San Francisco Symphony introduce a groundbreaking artistic leadership model anchored by eight Collaborative Partners from a variety of cultural disciplines: Nicholas Britell, Julia Bullock, Claire Chase, Bryce Dessner, Pekka Kuusisto, Nico Muhly, Carol Reiley, and Esperanza Spalding. This group of visionary artists, thinkers, and doers joins with Salonen and the San Francisco Symphony to chart a new course of experimentation by collaborating on new ideas, breaking conventional rules, and creating unique and powerful experiences. February 2021 saw the launch of SFSymphony+, the San Francisco Symphony’s on-demand video streaming service. Learn more about the musicians of the San Francisco Symphony here.


One of four operas unveiled in 1817 by Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868), La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie) is an opera semiseria, a hybrid with both serious and amusing overtones. The plot involves a housemaid who conceals her father to prevent his wrongful imprisonment, becomes the object of predation from the local mayor, and is sentenced to death for stealing a silver spoon. A last-minute reprieve arrives for both the father (because the king is moved by a spirit of clemency) and for the daughter, when it comes to light that a magpie has been stealing shiny objects—including the missing spoon. The work’s Overture, however, is drawn from the workshop of opera buffa, announcing an evening that audience members are deceived into assuming will be filled with amusement. 

Rossini’s final opera, William Tell (1829), coincided with the rise of the French predilection for vastly scaled operatic epics on historical themes. Rarely produced due to its length, William Tell includes knock-your-socks-off arias, gripping ensembles, and a leading role for the humble Swiss citizen who leads his countrymen to independence—and, of course, shoots an apple off his son’s head. The work’s Overture is justly famous, but its ballet music is far less frequently extracted. The Pas de Six (an ensemble for six dancers) played here falls in Act One, where peasants dance as hopeful marriage festivities unroll against the grim political background.

Louise Farrenc (1804–75) entered the upper echelon of Parisian musicians at a time when French composers normally sought their fortune in the realm of opera, accepting that large-scale instrumental writing was a German domain. Farrenc, however, wrote no operas and instead produced high-quality chamber music and symphonies. A virtuoso pianist—a professor of that instrument at the Paris Conservatory—she also collaborated with her flutist-husband on Le trésor des pianistes, an influential multi-volume collection of keyboard music from earlier times. The last of her three symphonies, premiered in 1849 in Paris, is an impressively scaled work of some thirty-five minutes. It was clearly born in the wake of Beethoven, and some may hear echoes of Farrenc’s contemporaries Schumann and Mendelssohn. Such analogies help contextualize this work but threaten to discount Farrenc’s individualism, which earned her Third Symphony rave reviews and reminds us that this remarkable work has been here all along, ready for us to engage with it.

As with many popular dances, the Charleston derived from somewhat indistinct origins and kept on evolving as individual dancers put their distinctive imprints on it. The dance first appeared in the musical comedy Liza (1922) and was boosted to super-popularity the following year in the musical Runnin’ Wild, with a score by James P. Johnson (1894–1955), a self-taught pianist who pioneered early jazz and particularly the stride piano style. With its quick tempo and alluring syncopation, it became a virtual anthem of the energetic Roaring Twenties. You know the classic posture: a half-hunch, feet apart with toes pointing inward, knees flapping in and out with hands more-or-less tracing the knees’ movements. 

—James M. Keller

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