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Oakland Symphony's New Music Director, Kedrick Armstrong

Aidan Kranz

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Aidan Kranz

The Oakland Symphony has named a new Music Director: Kedrick Armstrong, who recently conducted them in the world premiere of Carlos Simon’s oratorio Here I Stand, about the life and work of singer and activist Paul Robeson. The orchestra has had a series of guest conductors since the death of Michael Morgan in 2021, after he led them for thirty years. Like his predecessor, Kedrick Armstrong knows the important role the Symphony can play in making connections with the people of the community.

“I was invited to guest conduct the orchestra back in August of 2022, for their SummerStage concert,” Armstrong says. “It was my first interaction with the ensemble, and my first time being out in Oakland and the Bay Area, and immediately from that first concert, there was already this sort of spark and this connection, that was deeply rooted in our striving for musical excellence, but that was more rooted in the way we make music and the way we build community and the way we viewed music’s role in the community.”

The audition process, he says, was extremely comfortable and inviting, as he saw their interest in a broad range of musical styles and traditions matched his own.

“I felt so able to be one hundred percent myself… I grew up playing gospel piano in churches, and grew up studying and loving Black music, but so much of my education has been in classical music. The regard in which I hold both popular styles of music and American genres of music alongside of the performance practice and the history of classical music is something that is a deep passion of mine, and I think something that we felt akin in our passion – looking at Oakland Symphony’s work in the education space, but also their works with the ‘Break Bread’ concerts and playlists. That multitude of musical expressions is an orchestra’s job and responsibility, carrying and telling the whole truth of the music of America.”

Kedrick Armstrong conducts the Oakland Symphony, February 2024

Kedrick Armstrong conducts the Oakland Symphony, February 2024

Scott Chernis

Kedrick Armstrong has been named by the Washington Post as one of “22 for ’22: Composer and Performers to watch.” He’s been an assistant conductor at the Chicago Sinfonietta, and in 2023 conducted the world premiere of The Factotum by Will Liverman and K Rico at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

“As far as orchestral music and classical music,” he says, “my interests go everywhere from Claudio Monteverdi to Jessie Montgomery. It’s sort of this amalgamation. And the conversation that happens between composers within art music and composers and artists of all genres. I’m so deeply fascinated by that, and I look forward to exploring all of those different cultures and repertoires with this orchestra.”

He says the warm welcome and good experiences he’s already had with the Oakland Symphony make him very excited to hit the ground running, exploring new ground with the ensemble.

“Curiosity is one of the hugest things that has fueled my own artistry and my own musicianship. I spent so much of my undergrad years hidden in between the library shelves, pulling scores off of the shelves, trying to find more voices and more stories, and more ways of expression. But that continual curiosity and exploration of the genre and of orchestral music to me, just continually grounds me in what it was like to first fall in love with the orchestra, to fall in love with classical music. And I think as professional musicians, we always have to have that bit of curiosity and that bit of spark that reminds us.”

Published on 04.09.2024