In an innovative piece of programming, the San Francisco Symphony, under the direction of conductor Michael Morgan, presents CURRENTS – turning the spotlight on the music of four different cultures which contribute to the make-up of the multicultural Bay Area society – Chinese, jazz, hip hop and Mexican – and the relationship between these genres and classical music.
This four-part series of online videos and supporting podcasts has been curated by Michael Morgan – Music Director of the Oakland Symphony and Artistic Director of the Oakland Youth Orchestra – in collaboration with musicians of the San Francisco Symphony. The programs include observations and comments by participating musicians – guest artists as well as Symphony members.
Further information and exploration of the genres is provided by conductor Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, Artist in Residence and Community Ambassador at Symphony Nova Scotia, who has recently been appointed to the Board of Orchestras Canada and is chair of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility committee.
CURRENTS Episode I: Enter the Pipa – which has been available online since July 28th – explores the effect of Chinese musical culture on the Bay Area, not only in relation to those of Chinese or Asian descent, but to Americans as well. The program features award-winning pipa virtuoso Shenshen Zhang, together with San Francisco Symphony musicians Assistant Principal Cello Amos Yang, Associate Principal Viola Yun Jie Liu, and Assistant Principal Second Violin Jessie Fellows.
The featured pieces are from Bright Sheng’s Seven Tunes Heard in China – Seasons (Qinghai) and The Little Cabbage (Hebei) – in a new arrangement created for the Symphony, by the composer, for pipa, violin, viola and cello.
CURRENTS Episode II: Bay Area Blue Notes – available online since August 6th – focusses on jazz, with guest artists Tammy L Hall and Jason Hainsworth. It recalls the days when San Francisco’s Fillmore District was known as the “Harlem of the West” – during the 1940s and 50s. This era marked an important chapter not only in jazz history, but also in the Black American experience, with many clubs in the district hosting jazz legends such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker.
San Francisco Symphony musicians appearing in this broadcast are Principal Bass Scott Pingel, Principal Timpani Edward Stephan and Mark Inouye, Principal Trumpet.
In this program, you’ll hear Mongo Santamaría’s Afro Blue, and Bronisław Kaper’s On Green Dolphin Street.
CURRENTS Episode III: From Scratch – just released – highlights the dynamic hip hop culture of Oakland. The title is derived from the creation – from scratch – of the musicians’ own movement, and their own sound. The program features guest artists Kev Choice (vocals, emcee with synth/laptop) and AÏMA the DRMR (vocals, emcee with synth/laptop).
From Scratch also features San Francisco Symphony musicians Paul Brancato (violin), Jonathan Vinocour (viola), cellist Barbara Bogatin, clarinettist Carey Bell, Jerry Simas on bass clarinet and trumpeter Aaron Schuman.
The pieces heard in From Scratch are Movements by Kev Choice, and Heady by AÏMA the DRMR – both arranged by Jack Perla.
The fourth and final episode of CURRENTS, ¡Viva México!, is a celebration of the multi-generational musical culture of the country. It’s scheduled for release on September 22nd, and features Los Cenzontles (guitar, vocals, percussion), with San Francisco Symphony musicians David Chernyavsky (violin), David Gaudry (viola) and Jill Brindel (cello).
Experience CURRENTS on sfsymphony.org/CURRENTS, Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, and Spotify.
Photographs courtesy San Francisco Symphony