Tag Archives: Alexander Platt

Classical Music World Watches Westport

From August 11 to 13, the eyes of the piano world will be on Westport.

Will we notice?

After a 2-year COVID absence, the Heida Hermanns International Piano Competition returns. The winner — one of the top young pianists on the planet — will earn $10,000. The other 3 finalists receive $2,500 each.

The 4 finalists (clockwise from upper left): Nathan Cheung, Katherine Benson, Artem Kuznetsov, Aaron Kurz.

The musicians will compete at MoCA, on the Hamburg Steinway “D” piano that once graced the Carnegie Hall stage. Sandwiched around the performances and awards ceremony are master classes at the Westport Library, plus a lecture on Nathaniel Dett — the pioneering yet long-forgotten Black composer whose work will be featured in the competition.

The international event has a strong local flavor, too. Staples High School 1983 (and Yale University and King’s College Cambridge) graduate Alexander Platt serves as artistic director. Longtime resident, internationally renowned pianist (and 1986 Hermanns winner) Frederic Chiu chairs the jury.

This is Big Time. So how come you haven’t heard of it?

You should have. The Heida Hermanns Competition is 50 years old. It alternates every other year, between pianists and vocalists. Both events draw enormous attention, in the classical music world.

The venue and sponsors have changed. It bounced for years between the Westport Arts Center’s various homes, and Town Hall. Now, MoCA has taken the reins. Hopefully, they can give it the press it deserves.

The public needs to learn a bit about its namesake, too.

Born in Germany in 1906, Heida Hermanns studied with some of Europe’s top musicians. She debuted with the Berlin Philharmonic at 18, then toured Euroope.

She married Artur Holde, a noted music critic and author. In 1936, with Nazi power on the rise, they emigrated to the US.

Hermanns made her debut at New York’s Town Hall in 1942. She gave annual recitals by composers outside the mainstream repertory, and performed often with John Corigliano. (The New York Philharmonic concertmaster lived in Westport. He’s buried in Assumption Cemetery.)

Heida Hermanns and John Corigliano (father of today’s composer).

A few years later, Hermanns and her husband moved here. The couple liked the town’s “eclectic, liberal, creative, artistic” reputation, Platt says. They quickly became involved in its cultural life.

She recorded frequently with Ruth Steinkraus Cohen (the musician and UN activist, for whom the Post Road bridge is named).

Hermanns and Holde formed Friends of Music and Performers of Connecticut (now called the Connecticut Alliance for Music). She also supported the Levitt Pavilion. When the Westport Arts Center was built in the 1980s, she underwrote the Artur Holde Concer tHall.

Hermanns died in 1995. But her support of young musicians lives on.

Musicians like Chiu and Platt are paying it forward. One way is by carrying on Hermanns’ legacy of highlighting overlooked musicians.

Nathaniel Dett

Artistic director Platt first learned of composer, organist, pianist, choral director and music professor Nathaniel Dett while in college. Platt is thrilled to program Dett’s music. Each finalist will include some of his work, as part of their recital.

“This will be the greatest Heida Hermanns Piano Competition ever.”

MoCA executive director Ruth Mannes, her staff and board are fully behind the event. The 3 American and 1 Russian competitors have a packed schedule — and should draw packed houses.

They should certainly enjoy conducting master classes at the Library, and playing at MoCA. As for the piano itself: there’s nothing better than that Steinway.

“It’s exactly what Heida would have played on in Vienna,” Platt says. “It will be like she’s back here with us.”

(Click here for tickets and more information on the Heida Hermanns International Piano Competition.)

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Alexander Platt conducts the Minnesota Philharmonic.

International Piano Competition Returns To Westport

After a hiatus of 2 years, one of the nation’s most important piano competitions is back.

And — though it’s flown under the radar since it began — it’s back in its hometown: Westport.

The Heida Hermanns Piano Competition returns from January 13 to 15,, at MoCA Westport. It originated with the Connecticut Alliance for Music. For many years it was sponsored by the MoCA’s predecessor — the Westport Arts Center — and held at Town Hall.

The event brings 4 of the world’s top pianists to Westport. Finalists were selected through an extensive international application process, including video submissions.

Though global in scope, the event has a true local flavor. Staples High School 1983 graduate Alexander Platt — whose career as conductor, music director and curator in symphony, chamber music and opera have taken him around the world — will serve as artistic director for the competition.

Alexander Platt conducts the Minnesota Philharmonic.

This year’s finalists include Americans Katharine Benson, Nathan Cheung and Aaron Kurz, and Russian Artem Kuznetsov. They’ll play on MoCA’s vintage Hamburg “D” grand piano, newly restored by the technician who took care of it at Carnegie Hall.

The winner earns $10,000. The other finalists receive $2,500 each.

Judges includes noted pianist Sahun Hong, Zhenni Li, and 2019 Heida Hermanns winner Priscila Navarro.

The 2022 Heida Hermanns International Piano Competition spotlights the neglected music for solo piano of African American composer Nathaniel Dett. He is regarded as a trailblazing Black composer of classical music.

In addition to the finalists’ performances, the 3-day event includes master classes at the Westport Library, and performances by the jury.

Tickets are available for individual events or a 3-day package. Click here for more information, and to purchase.

Heida Hermanns

Heida Hermanns was born in Germany in 1906. She debuted on the piano with the Berlin Philharmonic at age 18, and toured Europe through the 1920s and ’30s.

She immigrated to the US in 1936, and made her Town Hall debut in 1942. In the late 1940s she moved to Westport and helped start the Friends of Music, to present chamber concerts.

She also founded Performers of Connecticut, which later became the Connecticut Alliance for Music. Click here for much more on Heida Hermanns.

PS: There’s one more Westport connection. One of the previous winners — Frederic Chiu — now lives here. For the past 10 years, he and his wife Jeanine Esposito have sponsored and led Beechwood Arts’ Immersive Innovation series.

Frederic Chiu: former Heida Hermanns winner. (Photo/Dan Woog)

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.”