La Crosse Symphony Orchestra Music Director
ALEXANDER PLATT has built a unique career spanning the worlds of symphony, chamber music and opera as conductor, music director, curator and host. Based in Chicago and New York, he is Music Director of the La Crosse Symphony, the Waukegan Symphony, and the Wisconsin Philharmonic, as well as Curator of Concerts at the Museum of Contemporary Art Westport; he spends his summers as Music Director of the Maverick Concerts in Woodstock, New York, the oldest summer chamber-music festival in America.
Born in New York City in 1965, Alexander grew up in Westport, Connecticut, then at its zenith as a middle-class haven for actors, writers, artists and musicians. His early mentors were the pianist Natalie Ryshna, a student of Olga Samaroff-Stokowski, whose recording of the Balakirev Piano Sonata was for several years the only one available in the West; the actor Alvin Epstein, who had created roles for Samuel Beckett, Richard Rodgers, and Orson Welles; the celebrated New York City Opera soprano Brenda Lewis, who had created roles for Barber, Blitzstein and Jack Beeson; and Frank Brieff, conductor of the New Haven Symphony, pupil of Nadia Boulanger, violist in the NBC Symphony, and a protege of Toscanini.
Trained as a viola player, a chorister in his Episcopal parish 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 conducted the Berkeley Chamber Players and started an acclaimed concert series at the Yale Center for British Art; he graduated in 1988 winning the Sudler Prize, the University’s highest undergraduate prize in the arts. He then spent three years at King’s College, Cambridge as a Marshall Scholar, where as a student of 19th-century music and performance practice he reconstructed the lost Vienna chamber version of the Gustav Mahler Fourth Symphony, on commission from the Benjamin Britten Estate; it has since gone on to be a classic of the repertoire, with many commercial recordings. 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 Britten’s neglected opera Owen Wingrave earned high praise in the London press. He also served as the student member of the King’s College building committee, and even found time to deputize in its legendary Chapel Choir.
Following conducting fellowships at both Aspen and Tanglewood (where his teachers were Murry Sidlin, Gustav Meier, Seiji Ozawa and Simon Rattle), in 1991 Alexander was made the first Apprentice Conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Minnesota Opera, in a unique program funded by the University of Minnesota during the heyday of the Twin Cities’ cultural scene; his conducting at the Opera of Colin Graham’s production of Madama Butterfly met with particular acclaim. Alexander then secured his first music directorship in nearby Wisconsin, leading the Racine Symphony Orchestra from 1993 to 2005 and transforming it from a municipal orchestra on the brink of closure to a thriving institution. During his twelve years in Racine the RSO vastly expanded its symphonic, pops and chamber music offerings, started 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; and for the first time, the orchestra recorded one of its concerts for Wisconsin Public Radio. During these years Mr. Platt 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 that city’s beloved Skylight Opera Theatre, in the John Mortimer version of Die Fledermaus.
By the time of his 2005 recording of Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy with Rachel Barton Pine and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra for Cedille Records, Alexander Platt was already in the midst of a decade’s worth of projects on the international scene. Making his debut with Chicago Opera Theater in 1997 conducting Charles Newell’s production of Don Giovanni, Alexander was appointed its Resident Conductor and Music Advisor in 2001, serving twelve years in that capacity during what is widely regarded as the company’s golden age under general director Brian Dickie. During this period he led the Chicago premieres of both Britten’s Death In Venice (earning a 5-star review in the London Financial Times) and of John Adams’ Nixon in China, generally seen as the most successful production in the history of the company. He also conducted the first full Chicago staging of Schoenberg’s Erwartung, the world-premiere of the Tony Kushner/Maurice Sendak version of Hans Krasa’s epic Brundibar, the world-premiere recording of Kurka’s The Good Soldier Schweik, and the Chicago premieres of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, his own version for young people of Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta, and of 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 the Shostakovich Moscow Paradise, to unanimous acclaim.
Having made his professional conducting debut in England, at the legendary Aldeburgh Festival, and his London debut at the Wigmore Hall, Alexander also spent these years guest-conducting the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the City of London Sinfonia, the Freiburg Philharmonic in Germany, Camerata Chicago, and for three seasons the Aalborg Symphony in Denmark, as well as 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 in Opera Canada magazine; that year he also made his New York debut conducting the Brooklyn Philharmonic in Central Park, the first of several successful appearances with the orchestra. He also spent three seasons as Principal Conductor of the Boca Raton Symphonia (2007-10), making his debut on 48 hours notice to replace an ailing James Galway and being appointed to the post soon after. Leading the orchestra (in the opinion of The Palm Beach Post) to being the finest of the ensembles to emerge from the collapse of the Florida Philharmonic, he shared the podium with maestros Phillippe Entremont, James Judd and Gerard Schwarz, remaining a musician and audience favorite. In 2013 Alexander made his debut at the Ravinia Festival, leading his own chamber-orchestra version of Leonard Bernstein’s Songfest with members of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, to acclaim in the Chicago Tribune.
A true journeyman conductor, Alexander Platt served as music director of both the Grand Forks Symphony in North Dakota (2010-15), and the Marion, Indiana Philharmonic (1996-2017); but for much of the last quarter-century his work has been centered in Wisconsin. Since his appointment as Music Director of the La Crosse Symphony in 2010, the Orchestra has enjoyed a complete revival, going from the brink of closure to now holding $1.5 million in endowment funds and serving as a cornerstone in the community’s emergence as one of America’s finest smaller cities in which to live (Forbes.com). In recent years the LSO has enjoyed sold-out houses, added performances, hitherto-unknown artistic standards, and numerous successful collaborations with the city’s youth orchestras and dance companies; the Orchestra has also become noted for its performances of the French repertoire, from standard masterworks to rarities from the Romantic era. Alexander has conducted the Wisconsin Philharmonic since 1997, helping to lead the long-admired ensemble (whose previous music directors include the legendary pedagogue Otto-Werner Mueller) out of the financial crisis of 2008. Forging new partnerships with a variety of venues and ensembles throughout Southeast Wisconsin, Alexander will this autumn lead the Philharmonic in its debut at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, the home of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.
Since 2003 Alexander Platt has spent his summers in the Hudson Valley as Music Director of the Maverick Concerts, founded in Woodstock, New York in 1915 and since led by such celebrated musicians as Georges Barrere, William Kroll and Leon Barzin. Under his direction the Maverick has become a busy, thriving festival of world, jazz, folk and classical music, regularly hosting many of the world’s finest string quartets and being the recipient of repeated grants from, among others, the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. A signal success for the Maverick during Mr. Platt’s tenure was his creation and conducting of the chamber-orchestra version of David Del Tredici’s masterwork Final Alice (1976). Produced in 2007 under a grant from The New York State Music Fund, The New York Times praised Mr. Platt’s traversal of Del Tredici’s notoriously difficult score.
An entrepreneurial conductor and curator from the beginning of his career — recently he completed three seasons hosting occasional live webcasts of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra — Alexander has continued to create unique, original musical projects, to international attention and community acclaim. In April 2018, in its program Inspirational Women at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center, Mr. Platt led the Wisconsin Philharmonic in the area premiere of Libby Larsen’s Symphony No.1, Water Music, in the presence of both the composer and Wisconsin First Lady Tonette Walker; next February he leads the same forces in the area premiere of her Third Symphony, Lyric, in celebration of Wisconsin’s leading the nation in the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919. Last October, in a performance underwritten by a grant from Chicago’s famous Poetry Foundation, he created and conducted Mahler’s ‘Wunderhorn’ – A Soldier’s Tale, a unique montage of new orchestrations of Mahler’s Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, with the actor and Iraq War veteran Benjamin Busch reading both famous and forgotten poems from the World War I era. Raising all needed additional funds for the project himself, Alexander led the performance to a full house at the Grainger Ballroom at Orchestra Hall, earning praise in the Chicago Classical Review as one of the more notable celebrations of the centennial of the Armistice that ended “the war to end all wars”. And again with the generous support of the Poetry Foundation, this past summer Alexander brought the final iteration of his chamber version of Bernstein’s Songfest back to the Ravinia Festival, with the Caroga Arts Collective and singers from Ravinia’s Steans Institute, in a performance broadcast on WFMT in its concluding festivities for the Bernstein centennial.
Through all these years Alexander Platt has done his part as an advocate for the music of our time, conducting the US premieres of works by Britten, Shostakovich, Ned Rorem, Colin Matthews, Daron Hagen, Harold Metlzer, Joseph Schwantner, Libby Larsen, Joan Tower, William Neil, Judith Weir, and Simon Holt — as well as his brother Russell Platt, former classical music editor at The New Yorker magazine. His work has been recorded by Minnesota Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Radio, National Public Radio, the South-West German Radio, and the BBC.