Love at first Mendelssohn
By Sharon McDaniel
February 10, 2008
Alexander Platt first visited Florida to conduct the-then Boca Raton Philharmonic Symphonia. That was February 2006. Just two years later, they both have new titles and a new relationship. Guest conductor Platt is now Principal Conductor Platt; the group is renamed the Boca Raton Symphonia (or Boca Symphonia, for short).
Today at 2:30 p.m., the returning principal conductor will lead a program of Haydn, Britten and Beethoven at the Symphonia's new home in Boca, the Roberts Theatre at Saint Andrew's School.
If the concert weren't a regular subscription event, if could be billed as an anniversary. It is two years, almost to the day, since Platt's first appearance with the Symphonia. And his debut landed at the midpoint of the group's auspicious inaugural season.
The transition from guest to artistic guide was easy, he says. All it took to bring them together again was the first Festival of the Arts Boca in March at Mizner Park. With 48 hours' notice, the Chicago resident took over the conducting role from flutist James Galway, and Platt was on the Boca podium again.
"It was love at first sight," laughs the 42-year-old Platt. "I think the defining moment was when we did this really incandescent Mendelssohn Italian Symphony on about 15 minutes of rehearsal! From that moment on, it was a love affair."
Recently, the board of directors decided it needed an artistic face to represent the Symphonia. They offered Platt a two-year contract as music adviser and principal conductor through the end of the 2008-09 season. That involves working with the community, fund-raising, programming and artistic administration as well as conducting.
Problem is, an awful lot of South Florida orchestras, recently formed or revamped, are involved in exactly the same process. The parade of small classical and pops orchestras stretches from here to Miami. Performing in this county, along with the Symphonia, are the Palm Beach Symphony, the Palm Beach Pops, the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra, the Florida Classical Orchestra, the Florida Sunshine Pops and the New Philharmonic Orchestra. Even Broward's Symphony of the Americas visits occasionally. Recently, Miami's Concert Association of Florida proposed starting a new one: the Florida Symphony Orchestra.
"I come down here from Chicago and my head is spinning!" Platt says, trying to keep all the groups' names straight. "All I can do is just make the Symphonia the best it can be - the classiest little chamber orchestra on the Eastern Seaboard."
Programming is his not-so-secret weapon, says Platt, who has made major strides with the 60-year-old Waukesha (Wisc.) Symphony Orchestra and Marion (Indiana) Philharmonic, both professional groups, as well as the Chicago Opera Theater.
"I think my aim in programming is to be accessible and yet distinctive; to show that we don't call it the 'Connoisseur Series' for nothing. My strength is in linking works together that have a common thread."
For example, listeners are unlikely to hear a program like Sunday's anywhere else but with the Symphonia.
"The Haydn Symphony No. 97 is this masterpiece, but we never hear it because it doesn't have a nickname," Platt says, pointing to Haydn's more popular symphonies, which have subtitles such as "Surprise," "Drum Roll" and "Hen." "But (No. 97) is a festive, celebratory work."
"And there's Beethoven's Seventh Symphony - you've got to have a standard piece like that on every program," he continues.
"And Britten's A Charm of Lullabies for mezzo-soprano and orchestra is so special and nobody knows it. It's gorgeous," adds Platt, who has excelled in conducting Britten's vocal music over the past 10 years. He likes to link works in programs that highlight the relationships between famous and lesser-known or contemporary composers. In the upcoming 2008-09 season - which the Symphonia is just releasing to the public - Platt has built programs around the composer Tchaikovsky. It is the first season he is responsible for planning as principal conductor, and he will conduct all five subscription concerts.
Also in 2008-09, guest soloists with the star power of violinist Vadim Gluzman (in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto) will join the Symphonia (Dec. 7, season opener). Piano greats Frederic Chiu (Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto in G Minor, Jan. 11, 2009) and Lydia Artymew (Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21, "Elvira Madigan," March 22, 2009) are among the highly respected names performing well-known works.
Along with major works of Tchaikovsky, large-scale works for 2008-09 include seldom-heard beauties like Respighi's Three Botticelli Pictures and Dvorak's Symphony No. 5 ("Pastoral"), as well as Stravinsky's famous Concerto for Chamber Orchestra, "Dumbarton Oaks."
"This is truly distinctive. It is world-class programming: the artists, the music," says Platt. "I'm just doing what I know we have to do in this maze of orchestras that is now South Florida."
Obviously, he has confidence in the orchestra's 35 or so musicians.
"It's a real testament to the Boca Symphonia that from the moment the horse was out of the gate, it was running at quite a high level," he says, crediting co-founder and original general manager Marshall Turkin. "We can emerge at the end of the 2008-09 season (being) a cut above. This is the path that we're destined to be on."
© 2008, Palm Beach Post.
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