Tag Archives: Alexander Platt

Remembering Brenda Lewis

Brenda Lewis — the soprano whose range of vocal styles brought her great fame in opera houses and on Broadway — died here last weekend. She was 96, and had lived in Westport for many years.

Lewis inspired audiences worldwide — and musicians in our town.

Alexander Platt — the 1983 Staples High School graduate who returned recently to lead the Westport Arts Center’s concert series — posted this remembrance on the influential Slippedisc cultural website blog:

When one loses an especially close friend, one feels as if one has lost a part of oneself. From the moment she discovered me over 30 years ago, as an aspiring conductor fresh out of high school, Brenda Lewis was one of my dearest lifelong friends, “the Jewish grandmother I’d never had” as we used to jokingly recall.

Brenda Lewis (Photo courtesy of New York Times and Opera News)

Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale” and Walton’s “Facade” were just two of the narration projects we undertook together, at Yale and beyond. Throughout, she was a fount of goodness, wit, wisdom, generosity, great knowledge, and tough advice (more of which I wish I’d followed).

Her recording of “Regina” will always be the authoritative interpretation of this great American opera — as with her own career, something always underrated, and it was a relief to see that her work in the first production of Barber’s “Vanessa” was finally acknowledged.

From her earliest days, she was an utterly self-made artist, always mixing Broadway with summer stock and some of the world’s great operatic stages, from New York to Vienna. As I once exclaimed to her, “Brenda, ‘crossover’ — you invented crossover!”

Or as she put it to me once, wistfully, “Wherever I was singing — on Broadway, in a classroom, in a barn somewhere, or singing ‘Carmen’ or ‘Salome’ at the Met — I was just so happy to be performing…..” — such great advice for so many of us, at this difficult time for music.

With Brenda’s death a magnificent mid-century golden age in New York’s operatic history is now gone — to my knowledge, she was the last of that line — but “there will always be a Lionnet,” and there will always be a Brenda, in my heart.

(For Brenda Lewis’ full New York Times obituary, click here.)

 

Alexander Platt: An “Itinerant Music Pastor” Comes Home

Ten years ago — when the Westport Arts Center asked Alexander Platt to head its Concert Series — the timing was not right.

The 1983 Staples High School graduate was in the midst of a long career leading orchestras and an opera company in Chicago, North Dakota and Florida — plus a summer “Maverick Concerts” music festival in Woodstock, New York.

His twin brother Russell got the job instead.

Now it’s Alexander’s turn.

Alexander Platt conducts the Minnesota Philharmonic.

For professional and personal reasons — including feeling like “an itinerant pastor,” and the death of his mother (his father still lives in Westport) — Platt has returned home.

“It’s time to be intensive, rather than extensive,” the new Concert Series curator says.

“It’s wonderful to conduct orchestras. But it’s equally pleasurable to run them as a sherpa or guide.”

The chance to put a full season together — to “shape it, host it, bridge it with the community” — proved irresistible.

The Yale and King’s College Cambridge graduate is excited about the 2017-18 series. The WAC wanted classical music, jazz and “something in between.” Platt delivers it all.

Igor Pikayzen

From the opening on September 23 (cutting-edge pianist Anthony de Mare reimagines Stephen Sondheim), to internationally renowned violinist (and Westport resident) Igor Pikayzen, through the noted Juilliard String Quartet and the up-and-coming Calidotre String Quartet, ending with jazz and classical pianist Simon Mulligan, Platt has created 5 outstanding events.

“Even if you hate music, you’ll love these concerts,” he says. “They’re the best of the best. They bridge genres. I get in free, but I’d pay anything to hear them!”

Yet his work does not remain within the WAC’s walls.

Platt has begun building partnerships with “comrades in arms.” He’s reached out to Beechwood Arts & Innovation — his friendship and work relationship with Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito goes back more than 20 years — and Suzuki Music School.

He’s also talking with the Westport and Pequot Libraries. Platt not only wants to eliminate date conflicts; he hopes each organization can cross-promote others’ events.

The Westport native remembers hearing “first-class music” every weekend, at venues ranging from Town Hall to the Unitarian Church.

“You didn’t have to go to New York or New Haven,” Platt notes. “I want to rebuild the audience for great music right here.”

He pauses.

“And there’s no place I’d rather be than Westport.”