Justin Morgan


Hometown: Salt Lake City, UT

Alma maters: The University of Utah, B.M.; Bard College Conservatory of Music, Advanced Performance Studies (APS) Certificate

Instagram: @fredthefifth

Photo by Leanna Ginsburg


Appearances: Beethoven Music Festival, Park City, UT, 2017; Curtis Summerfest, Philadelphia, 2018; Académie Orford Musique, Canada, 2019

What is your earliest memory of classical music? Before I ever touched an instrument, as a child I was frequently found playing the “air violin” along to episodes of Looney Tunes. My favorite was the 1957 short “What’s Opera, Doc?” Seeing Bugs Bunny as Brünhilde was a riot!

When did you realize you wanted to pursue music as a career? When I was in junior high, my school’s music instructor also happened to be the principal bassist of the Salt Lake Symphony. She would often bring her symphony parts for me to examine and encouraged me to practice and audition for the orchestra myself someday. A few years later, we were stand partners together in the orchestra. My love of classical music, coupled with the confidence that she inspired in me, made music a very natural career choice for me.

How did you hear about TŌN? What inspired you to apply? While I was an APS student at Bard Conservatory, I was frequently called in to sub with TŌN’s bass section. I really enjoyed the diverse repertoire, caliber of the orchestra, inspiring performance venues, and working with my colleagues both onstage and behind the scenes; so when the time came to audition, I was met with a lot of encouragement to apply.

What do you think orchestra concerts should look like in the 21st Century? I would love to see audiences have more opportunities to connect with what’s happening onstage on a more intimate level. It’s important to break down the barriers between audiences and the performers onstage. As architecture and technology advances, we should adapt with it and bring the action closer to our listeners. Whether by incorporating filmed projections during concerts or actually designing concert halls that allow audience members to sit onstage with the orchestra, I think it would be great to let everyone experience the magic up close.

Who is your biggest inspiration? My mentor and bass instructor, Leigh Mesh. Leigh is the associate principal bassist for the Metropolitan Opera. His playing is impeccable, he has one of the most exciting jobs in the world, a beautiful family, and is one of the kindest and most sincere people you could ever meet.

Which composer or genre of music do you feel you connect with the most? From 14th-century madrigals to the latest film scores, my love of music spans so many genres and composers; however, Wagner and Shostakovich are two composers whose musical language speaks to me on the deepest level. And the history behind each of those artists is endlessly fascinating (albeit somewhat troubling).

What is your favorite piece of music, and why do you love it? I was completely floored the first time I saw Tristan und Isolde. Wagner has such a unique ability to enfold you into the story, and his musical and harmonic language works so beautifully with the emotions and psychologies of the characters. It took me about six weeks to recover after that performance, and even today when I hear excerpts from Tristan I get goosebumps!

What has been your favorite experience as a musician? I have a lot of rewarding experiences onstage, but I also think that my experience as a musician has greatly enhanced my appreciation for attending performances as an audience member. One of my most memorable experiences was flying to Los Angeles to watch Sir Simon Rattle conduct Mahler 7 with the Berlin Philharmonic live at Disney Concert Hall (designed by the same architect who designed the Fisher Center at Bard). That performance shook me.

Do you have any embarrassing performance stories? Several years ago in an orchestra which shall remain unnamed . . . I was playing a concert and my stand partner arrived late. Instead of waiting quietly in the wings to make his way onstage between numbers, he decided to sneak out during one of the pieces. Unfortunately, his efforts to go unnoticed were ruined when he FELL ON TOP OF ME! Fortunately, no instruments or musicians were harmed.

What is some advice you would give to your younger self? Don’t play in too many orchestras! I was addicted to playing in orchestras and by my senior year in high school I was playing in twelve orchestras at once in addition to balancing honors and AP classes. Granted, I learned a lot of repertoire and had a lot of fun at the time, but I also lost a lot of valuable time for eating, sleeping, practicing, etc.

Favorite non-classical musician or band: I mean, Lady Gaga is the queen . . .

If you could play another instrument, what would it be? There are so many! But I usually keep coming back to piano and viola.

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing? I’ve always resonated with the Robert Frost quote, “To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.” And I find the same to be true of musicians. I really can’t imagine myself doing anything outside of music; however, if I had to choose another occupation it would be something in arts administration (preferably for a non-profit) which would at least allow me to work closely with musicians and artists.

What is your favorite place you’ve traveled to and why? Goodness, this is too hard, so I’m going to cheat and pick a continent: Europe! I’ve visited ten countries in Europe so far and have 34 more to see, but all of them are so beautiful and have such distinct cultures, languages, food, art, and traditions.

Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to have dinner with and why? Ludwig van Beethoven, Leo Tolstoy, and Leoš Janáček. All three of them wrote influential works to me, each titled “The Kreutzer Sonata”; however, the three works each span 120 years apart from one another, and none of them actually have anything to do with their namesake, Rodolphe Kreutzer. It would be fascinating to discuss the three works together (assuming Tolstoy wouldn’t attack Beethoven, or vice versa)!

Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us: My instrument case is entirely hand-painted and was custom made for my bass. Three other artists and myself were involved in creating it and all of us lived in different states at the time of its creation.

Piece of advice for a young classical musician: Take creative risks and get comfortable with being uncomfortable—similar to experiencing soreness or fatigue from physical exercise, discomfort and nervousness in performance, practice, and communicating is a natural part of your personal growth and it will get easier the more you put yourself in those situations.