‘Never just a collection of notes’

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DANBURY – If music is its own special language, Eric Lewis was its speaker, teasing life in his sentences and emotion in his pauses. When he took his violin, the music transcended the place, the day or the room.

“No one played like Eric, he was just another world in his game,” said Katherine (Kathy) Dorn Lewis, wife of the late musician, teacher and songwriter. “Every note was a being, was a real creature.”

Lewis brought the same devotion to expansive and emotional music to his students at Western Connecticut State University as he did to his role as cultural ambassador to the former Soviet Union in the 1980s. For four decades, Lewis held the title of first president with the new Manhattan String Quartet, a group he resuscitated in 1968. He also founded and performed in various groups such as the Prometheus Ensemble, a piano quintet, Delphi , a soprano and a violin. duo, and the Danbury Camerata Chamber Orchestra.

Over the course of his career, Lewis brought a lost Mozart concerto to life, framed and inspired scores by young violinists, and wrote the only known requiem for children lost to violence around the world.

Lewis completed this last work, the Lullaby Requiem, before his death, but never had the chance to see it performed. Lewis died on February 24, 2021 at the age of 74 from heart causes. He left behind his wife Kathy, his son Jamie Lewis and his grandsons Xavier and Jaxon Lewis.

The Requiem lullaby embodied her deep belief in the connection between life and music. The project is dedicated to children who have died as a result of war, violence and abuse, and was inspired in part by the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse and the Sandy Hook School shooting in 2012.

“There is no other requiem like this,” said Lisa Scails of the Cultural Alliance of Western Connecticut. The association serves as a fiduciary support for the project.

Towards the end of his life, Lewis was concentrating on finishing his last and largest composition.

“He felt an urgency for this,” said Kathy Lewis. He hoped that “bringing out this requiem would do something to wake people up,” she added.

Now, at the Unitarian Church of All Souls on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a movement from his final work will finally be performed in front of a live audience. The Eric Lewis Memorial Concert, hosted by his wife and the Cultural Alliance, will take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The event will honor Eric’s “passion for life and music” by playing the sixth movement of the 11-movement requiem.

Kathy Lewis said it was the most accessible and manageable move, and also one of her favorites.

“It was my mission as much as his mission to bring this out,” she said.

A life shaped by music

Eric Lewis was born into a house filled with music.

Her mother, Lillian, was a music teacher and her father loved classical music. The waves and outlines of concertos and violin sonatas frequently floated through the rooms of their New Jersey home.

When Robert and Lillian Lewis decided to take their young son to a Beethoven violin concerto, the experience sparked a lifelong passion in Lewis.

“He just fell in love,” said Kathy Lewis.

After attending the Manhattan School of Music, Lewis will dedicate his life and work to crafts.

During his 35 years as a music professor at Western Connecticut State University, Lewis has passed on his artistry and gifts to the next generation of violinists.

In class, her colleague Margaret Astrup, head of singing and opera programs at West Conn, said Lewis took a “holistic” approach to teaching.

“It wasn’t just about the music, but its impact on the larger world, the universe,” she said. “I believe he used music to reach people both as a teacher and as a performer.”

One of his longtime students, David Strom, is now an accomplished musician and violin teacher. Strom will perform the sixth movement with the orchestra at the memorial concert in Manhattan. He called Lewis his “second father”.

During Strom’s eight years of study with Lewis, violin technique was only a small part of the wisdom his teacher passed on to him. Classes often lasted three hours, sometimes followed by a trip to the movies. Lewis assigned the young boy readings from great philosophers like Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, asking him to come back next week ready to talk about theory. Strom remembers Lewis telling him at the age of 10 that “to be a musician you had to be a Renaissance person.”

When Strom was being bullied at school, Lewis worked on his self-confidence, teaching the young boy how to react to bullies.

“He was kind of like my Mr. Miyagi,” Strom said with a laugh.

True to his mantra, Lewis was a great photographer and loved to draw and write poetry (which his wife said he kept private). He was also a great reader.

Lewis’s younger brother Roy Lewis is also a violinist and played alongside him with the Manhattan String Quartet for 17 years. Roy learned the violin by watching and listening to his brother play.

Roy Lewis will perform a movement from a Brahms piano quintet during the memorial. It was one of the brothers’ favorites growing up, Roy Lewis said.

Even Jordan Chase, the orchestrator of the Lullaby Requiem, said he learned a lot from his work with Lewis. Chase grew closer to Lewis during their work together and said he was eager to hear the work come to life during the concert.

The power of music

Lewis’s relatives described his music as “powerful,” perhaps because it was not just about the notes on the page, but the infusion of feeling and purpose into the sound.

For Strom, Lewis’s tone is still his model. He tries to channel Lewis’ touch and techniques into his own practice.

“When you teach, you kind of feel the spirit of your teachers with you,” Strom said from his home in Maryland.

Kathy Lewis, who is also a violinist and teacher, performed with him frequently. The two founded and performed together in the Camerata Strings, an offshoot of the Camerata Chamber Orchestra in Danbury.

“It was like we were one person. It was like we were totally integrated into one soul when I played with him, ”she said.

His music “embodied feelings common to various aspects of life and the universe,” Astrup said. “He was very interested in integrating all of this and having some kind of positive impact on the world.”

Astrup collaborated with Lewis to develop the voice for the requiem and will attend the memorial concert with a group of singers to perform the movement.

Making music with his brother is what Roy Lewis said he would miss the most.

“The feeling of playing with my brother was wonderful, it was heartwarming, it was fulfilling,” he said.

“Each note had to be part of an expressive event,” he added. “It was never just a collection of notes and dynamics, it was always a story.”

Chase said the memorial concert would be exactly what Lewis wanted. Several other relatives of Lewis agreed.

“I feel like he’s listening to it from the other side,” said Kathy Lewis.


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