Posted in History

Calvin Simmons – 1950-1982

A special edition of my blog, in honor of Black History Month and a wonderful man.

I was lucky enough to know Clavin Simmons personally.  He was the conductor of Oakland Symphony when I worked there.

Calvin Simmons Conductor

Calvin
Calvin Simmons Conductor

Let me back up a little bit my mom Sarah Chambers started working at the Oakland Symphony in 1977 when I was still high school.  She started as the receptionist and worked her way up the ladder to the Director of Education.  During the summer she would volunteer me to hand out flyers at lunchtime events.  One of our board members would do the same of her daughter Libby Schaff, now the Mayor of Oakland.  I was hired in 1980 as the receptionist and I also worked my way up the ladder to Box Office/Marketing Assistant.   We both worked for the symphony until September 1986 when they filed for bankruptcy.

The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Mon__Jan_28__1985_

Before the Oakland Symphony

Calvin was born in San Francisco in 1950.  Music was apart of his life from the beginning.  His Mother taught him the piano.  By age 11, he was conducting the San Francisco Boys Chorus.

The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Fri__Sep_19__1969_
SF Examiner Sept 19, 1969

The Maestro Kid

He was the assistant conductor with the San Francisco Opera from 1972 to 1975, winning the Kurt Herbert Adler Award.

He remained active at the San Francisco Opera for all his adult life, supporting General Director Kurt Herbert Adler, first as a repetiteur and then as a member of the conducting staff. He made his formal debut conducting Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème with Ileana Cotrubas. His later work on a production of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District drew national attention.  In 1979 he conducted the premiere of Menotti’s La Loca at San Diego.

 

 

SF Examiner 1972

He was also the assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta.

 

The_Los_Angeles_Times_Sat__Feb_1__1975_

LA Times Feb 01, 1975

 

Conductors Simon Rattle and Calvin Simmons, who both worked with Glyndebourne early in their careers in the mid-1970s.

 

Photograph Roy Jones Hulton-Deutsch Collection CORBIS

Photograph: Roy Jones/ Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

 

He made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera conducting Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, returning the following year. He was on the musical staff at Glyndebourne from 1974 to 1978 and conducted the Glyndebourne Touring Opera.

 

The_Los_Angeles_Times_Tue__Jan_20__1976_ (3)

 

 

His final concerts were three performances of the Requiem of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the summer of 1982 with the Masterworks Chorale and the Midsummer Mozart Festival Orchestra.

 

Oakland Symphony

Simmons became musical director of the Oakland Symphony Orchestra at age 28 in 1978.  He was one of the early African-American conductors of a major orchestra.

His debut or audition was in early 1978.

 

The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Sun__Apr_16__1978_
SF Examiner April 1978

 

The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Sun__Apr_23__1978_
SF Examiner April 1978

The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Sun__Feb_19__1978_

 

 

A wordless Maestro – September 1978

The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Tue__Sep_26__1978_

 

Finale – 1982

On Sunday, August 22, 1982, I was at next door helping my husband who was repairing our neighbor’s roof.  All of a sudden my Mom screams out the window that Calvin has died.   Such a sad day.  It took another week to find his body.  It was such a loss to Oakland and to the music world.  He was on his way to greatness.

Calvin was visiting friends in Upper State New York.  Connery Pond was a place he went to a lot to unwind and regroup.  While waiting for dinner he decided to take a canoe ride out in the.  He was by himself about 150 feet from the shore, he was a good swimmer.  A woman was taking pictures of the sunset from the shore.  She pointed her camera towards Calvin and he must have noticed that and being the ham he was, he stood up to pose. He then fell into the water.

A memorial service was held on Sept 07, 1982 at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, more than 2200 people attended.

A memorial concert was held on Sept 20, 1982, at the Paramount Theatre the home of the Oakland Symphony.  

 

Various articles from August 1982The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Mon__Aug_23__1982_

The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Mon__Aug_23__1982_ (1)

Philadelphia_Daily_News_Tue__Aug_24__1982_

The_Boston_Globe_Tue__Aug_24__1982_

 

The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Tue__Aug_31__1982_

A Final Tribute

The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Tue__Sep_7__1982_ (1)

The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Tue__Sep_7__1982_The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Tue__Sep_7__1982_ (2)

 

For more on Calvin:

The_Windsor_Star_Fri__Jan_22__1982_

 

 

Calvin joined the Youth Orchestras tour in July of 1982

 

Author:

I have been an Oakland history buff since going on an Oakland Heritage Alliance Tour of the Fernwood Neighborhood in the Montclair District of Oakland, in the mid-80's. On that tour, I learned that there use to be a train (Sacramento Northern) that ran through Montclair, in the early 1900's and that people lived the area as early as 1860's. I have been hooked ever since. Since then I have spent a lot of time looking into the history of Montclair and I have learned a lot. I feel this will be the best way to get it out of my head and onto paper.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s