Rebranded Oakland Symphony Enters 27th Season
By Lou Fancher
In a 27th season characterized by broad ambition, there's one thing becoming smaller for an Oakland music troupe: its name.
Streamlining "Oakland East Bay Symphony" to its essentials, the newly named Oakland Symphony "debuts" Oct. 2 with the West Coast premiere of Devil's Radio, by Bay Area composer Mason Bates; Prokofiev's violin concerto with 21-year-old guest soloist Kenneth Renshaw; selections from Brahms' Liebeslieder Waltzes with the Oakland Symphony Chorus conducted by Lynne Morrow; and Rachmaninoff'sSymphonic Dances.
The full-frontal impact of the opening concert is only the beginning, with subsequent performances offering Lost Romantics (Nov. 13); Notes from Vietnam (Feb. 12); Beethoven's Choice (Mar. 18); Stravinsky & Silverman (May 20); and a bevy of OS Choral performances, Youth Orchestra Concerts, and special holiday events.
The name change is a lesson in listening, according to music director Michael Morgan. "The shorter name is more powerful, and so often it's what our community calls us anyway. But we certainly remain committed to the entire Bay Area."
And committed to the entire canon of classical music, with extras, like Bates.
Recent winner of the Heinz Award for Arts & Humanities and current Mead Composer-In-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Mason grabs the horns of orchestral writing (and gallops in unexpected directions) with an expanded palette that blends electronic and orchestral sound. His work is in the repertoire of Chicago Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, SF-based Chanticleer, and — among many more — Oakland Symphony.
After establishing himself in the Bay Area with split presences as a DJ and classical composer in the early 2000s, Bates began knocking aside physical and virtual walls defined by classical concert halls. Mothership(2011) premiered at the Sydney Opera House performed by the YouTube Symphony to an online audience of 1.8 million listeners. The Chicago Symphony's MusicNOW series hit the road and draws crowds that number well over 5,000 in cities across the United States. The hybrid concerts blend classical music, electronica, DJing, and dramatic stage lighting in a swirling dance party and concert.
And the Bay Area will go "stereo Mason Bates" when Mercury Soul (a project first launched at SF's Mezzanine club in 2008) brings his mix of music, DJing and stagecraft to Ruby Skye on the same night OS opens their season at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland.
"Mason Bates is 'our' composer," Morgan says, not in response to a tug-of-war question but inadvertently creating a contest in which everyone wins. "We played him before the rest of the planet started to. Devil's Radio is yet another of his attractive pieces that are such a hit with our audience."
Bates is equally complimentary. "They put me out there and took a chance with me. Michael gave me one of my first big opportunities."
Jumping out in front — or into the fire — is trademark Morgan. But don't be fooled by a wily fox. Observing Morgan and OS for several years and in multiple venues, there's rarely a misstep. Shining the light on young superstars like Mason and Renshaw might be more clever calculation than risk-taking. Renshaw is a distinguished, sensitive violinist "on loan" from Juilliard with strong ties to the Bay Area. (He was Concertmaster of San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra from 2008-10 and made his solo debut in Davies Symphony Hall as winner of the orchestra's concerto competition in 2010.) He may not shake the classical music terrain in the same way as Bates, but his performance will likely stir souls.
Shorten the name, extend the integrity: a winning formula marks the start of the first OS season.