Alexander Platt

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Alexander Platt has built a unique career in American music, straddling the worlds of symphony, chamber music and opera as an innovative and accomplished music director, conductor, and host. He is the music director of two of the Midwest’s finest regional orchestras, the La Crosse Symphony and the Wisconsin Philharmonic, and spends his summers in the Hudson River Valley as Music Director of the Maverick Concerts in Woodstock, New York, the oldest summer chamber-music festival in America. Following 22 years as Music Director of the Marion, Indiana Philharmonic, Alexander returned to his New England roots and now also serves as the Artistic Director for chamber music at the Westport Arts Center, in the historic cultural community of Westport, Connecticut. Next March, he returns for his third season of hosting live webcasts of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Trained as a viola player and a chorister in the Episcopal Church, and a research scholar for the National Endowment for the Humanities before he entered college, Alexander Platt was educated at Yale University, where he led an acclaimed concert series as the resident conductor at the renowned Yale Center for British Art; he graduated in 1988 winning most of the major undergraduate music prizes. Awarded a British Marshall Scholarship, Alexander then spent three years at King’s College Cambridge, studying 19th-century music and performance practice; he also reconstructed the lost Vienna chamber version of the Mahler Fourth Symphony, which was published by Josef Weinberger, Ltd. and has since gone on to become a classic of the repertoire. He also served as the student member of the College’s building committee, and even found time to deputize in their legendary Chapel Choir. While at Cambridge he was the first American to be awarded the coveted post of Assistant Conductor of the Cambridge University Musical Society, and also served as Conductor of the Cambridge University Opera Society, where his revival of Benjamin Britten’s neglected opera Owen Wingrave earned high praise in the London press.

Following conducting Fellowships at both Aspen and Tanglewood, where his teachers included Seiji Ozawa and Simon Rattle, in 1991 Alexander Platt was made the first Apprentice Conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Minnesota Opera, in a unique program devised by Murry Sidlin and funded by the University of Minnesota School of Music; his conducting of the Colin Graham production of Madama Butterfly met with particular acclaim. Mr. Platt then secured his first music directorship in Wisconsin, leading the Racine Symphony Orchestra from 1993 to 2005 and transforming it from a community orchestra on the brink of closure to a thriving institution. During his twelve years there the RSO vastly expanded its symphonic, pops and chamber music offerings, established an extensive program to bring music to all third-grade students in Racine County, and established a fund for free private music lessons for needy children; for the first time, the orchestra also recorded one of its concerts for Wisconsin Public Radio. During these years Alexander also spent a great deal of time conducting choral societies in Milwaukee, leading over several seasons a complete cycle of the late Haydn Masses; his 1997 performance of Haydn’s Mass in Time of War, with Ensemble Musical Offering, earned him high acclaim in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, as did his conducting debut at the Skylight Opera Theatre, in the John Mortimer version of Die Fledermaus.

By the time of the controversy of his dismissal from Racine in 2005, Alexander Platt was already in the midst of a decade’s worth of projects on the international scene. Having made his debut conducting Chicago Opera Theater in 1997, leading Charles Newell’s production of Don Giovanni, Mr. Platt was appointed Resident Conductor and Music Advisor in 2001, serving twelve years in that capacity during what is widely regarded as COT’s golden age under its general director Brian Dickie. During these years he led the Chicago premieres of Britten’s Death in Venice, earning a 5-star review in London’s Financial Times, and of John Adams’ Nixon in China, widely regarded as the most successful production in the history of the company. He also led the world-premiere production of the new Tony Kushner/Maurice Sendak version of Hans Krasa’s Brundibar, the world-premiere recording of Kurka’s The Good Soldier Schweik, his own version for young people of Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta, and the Chicago premieres of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the full staged version of Schoenberg’s Erwartung, and of the Bizet/Peter Brook La Tragedie de Carmen — all to high praise in Opera News, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and both the great Chicago papers. In 2012, Alexander concluded his tenure at COT leading the Chicago premiere of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Moscow Paradise, to unanimous acclaim.

Having made his professional debut in England, conducting at the legendary Aldeburgh Festival, Alexander Platt also spent these years guest-conducting the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the City of London Sinfonia, the Freiburg Philharmonic in Germany, and for three seasons, the Aalborg Symphony in Denmark — along with Camerata Chicago, the Illinois, Riverside California and Hudson Valley Philharmonics, and the Houston, Charlotte, and Indianapolis Symphonies. In 2007 Mr. Platt made his debut at the Banff Festival in Canada, with his work being singled out for praise by Opera Canada magazine; that year he also made his New York debut with the Brooklyn Philharmonic in Central Park, the first of several innovative and successful appearances with that orchestra. He also spent these years serving as Principal Conductor of the Boca Raton Symphonia, making his debut on 48 hours’ notice in 2007 to replace an ailing Sir James Galway and leading the ensemble (in the opinion of The Palm Beach Post) to being the finest of the orchestras to emerge from the collapse of the Florida Philharmonic; he also shared the podium with maestros Phillippe Entremont, James Judd and Gerard Schwarz, in which guise he remained both a musician and audience favorite. Following his years in Boca, in 2013 Alexander Platt made his debut at the Ravinia Festival, with his revival of Leonard Bernstein’s Songfest with artists from the Ryan Center of the Lyric Opera of Chicago earning high acclaim in the Chicago Tribune.

In addition to serving as Music Director of the Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra (2010-2015) and the Marion, Indiana Philharmonic (1996-2017), Alexander Platt has for a quarter-century devoted himself to orchestras in Wisconsin. Under his direction since 2010, the La Crosse Symphony Orchestra has enjoyed a complete revival, going from the brink of insolvency to now holding $1.7 million in fixed assets and serving as a cornerstone in the community’s emergence as one of America’s finest smaller cities in which to live( Since 2010 the LSO has enjoyed sold-out houses, added performances, hitherto-unknown artistic standards, new collaborations with the La Crosse Youth Symphony as well as both the city’s dance companies, and the establishment of the orchestra’s Endowment Fund. And in tribute to the city’s discovery by the 17th-century voyageurs, the LSO has also become particularly acclaimed for its performances of the French repertoire: from standard masterworks of Berlioz, Debussy and Ravel, to rarities of Franck, Delibes, Lalo, Chausson and Magnard. Mr. Platt has similarly led the Wisconsin Philharmonic since 1997, taking an active role in education and fund-raising and overseeing new performance collaborations with a variety of venues throughout Southeast Wisconsin — all while burnishing the orchestra’s reputation as one of America’s finest small-budget orchestras, which was formerly led as the Waukesha Symphony by the great conductor-pedagogue Otto-Werner Mueller.

Since 2003 Alexander Platt has spent his summers in the Hudson River Valley as Music Director of the Maverick Concerts, established in Woodstock, New York in 1915 and since then led by such musicians as Georges Barrere, William Kroll, and Leon Barzin. Under his direction the Maverick has become a thriving, eclectic festival of jazz, world, folk and classical music, regularly hosting many of the world’s finest string quartets and being the recipient of many and repeated grants from the Thompson Family Foundation, the New York State Music Fund, the New York State Council on the Arts, Chamber Music America, and the National Endowment for the Arts. A signal success for Alexander at the Maverick was his conducting and creation of the chamber-orchestra version of David Del Tredici’s 1976 masterpiece Final Alice, with The New York Times praising Mr. Platt’s traversal of Del Tredici’s notoriously difficult score. In his new venture at the Westport Arts Center, and indeed, everywhere he has served, Alexander has earned his reputation as one of the most entertaining and effective speakers on classical music today, acting as “sherpa” to his audiences for both famous masterpieces, modern music, and neglected works.

An entrepreneurial conductor from the start of his career, Alexander Platt devoted a significant part of 2018 to continuing to create and present unique, world-class events on the musical scene. In April, in its program Inspirational Women at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center, he presented with the Wisconsin Philharmonic the area premiere of American composer Libby Larsen’s Symphony No.1, Water Music, originally written for Sir Neville Marriner and the Minnesota Orchestra — in the presence of both the composer and the First Lady of Wisconsin Tonette Walker, to accolades from both composer and audience. And this October in Chicago, in a special, acclaimed performance underwritten by the Poetry Foundation, he conceived, curated and conducted Mahler’s ‘Wunderhorn’ Songs: A Soldier’s Tale — a unique, original montage of Gustav Mahler’s settings of poems from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, in new chamber-orchestra arrangements by Wolfgang Renz, and legendary poems of the World War I era as read by the Iraq War veteran and poet Benjamin Busch. Raising all needed resources for the event himself, and collaborating with the Caroga Arts Ensemble, singers from the Ryan Center of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago as presenter, Mr. Platt led the performance to a capacity crowd in the Grainger Ballroom at Orchestra Hall, earning praise in the Chicago Classical Review as one of the more notable Chicago musical observances of the centennial of the Armistice that ended “the war to end all wars”. In the same spirit, in June 2019 he returns to the Ravinia Festival to lead another revival of his version of Bernstein’s Songfest, in a final tribute to the Leonard Bernstein centennial.

Through all these years, Alexander Platt has done his part as an advocate for the music of our time, having conducted the US premieres of works by Britten, Shostakovich, Ned Rorem, Colin Matthews, Daron Hagen, Joseph Schwantner, Harold Meltzer, Libby Larsen, Joan Tower, Judith Weir, William Neil, and Simon Holt — as well as of his brother Russell Platt, classical music editor at The New Yorker magazine; in April, he welcomes Libby Larsen to Waukesha County, for a performance of her Water Music Symphony. In addition to recording for the Minnesota and Wisconsin Public Radios, National Public Radio, the South-West German Radio, the BBC and Chicago’s WFMT, Mr. Platt’s 2005 recording for Cedille Records of the Max Bruch Scottish Fantasy, with the great American violinist Rachel Barton Pine, is still heard frequently on radio stations across North America.

December 2018