Edward Alley was truly committed to his craft — it was something to which he dedicated his life.
The West Texas-born man fell in love with music, and, eventually, conducting. Throughout his years, Alley served as manager of the New York Philharmonic and a conductor of both orchestras and operas including the 7th U.S. Army Symphony and Goldovsky Opera Theater. He served as associate director of the Opera Center of The Juilliard School, director of the Exxon/Arts Endowment Conductors Program and served as a grant panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts. He has been a committed supporter of Sarasota's arts groups since he moved here in 2000.
But to Alley, being in music wasn’t about the symphonies he conducted and the institutions he served in his 85 years. It was about the people behind the music, particularly the passionate artists whom Alley loved to support and nurture. Encouraging fellow lovers of the art was important to him throughout his career.
Rita Mathsen remembers meeting Alley 40 years ago taking voice lessons from Alley’s first wife, Nancy Williams. She recalls him active around the house, often contributing to her lessons when he could.
Then he started recommending she audition for competitions he found. Or if a pickup choir in New York City needed a singer, Alley would give her a call, and Nancy and he would let her stay at their home for the weekend.
They’ve been close friends for 40 years, with Alley sending Mathsen a text every morning to check in and let her know what he was up to. Ed and Nancy were at the hospital the day after Matheson had her first child — She said Alley has been a father to her.
Mathsen and her husband, Eric, recently moved to Sarasota to be closer to Alley at his request. Alley recently told Mathsen he was feeling ill, and they made plans to visit the doctors on Monday.
“He was there one minute,” Mathsen said. “And then he wasn’t.”
Edward Alley died Monday, July 13. He was 85.
During his career, Alley's talent led him to work with the greats. Joy McIntyre, president of the Sarasota Concert Association — remembers seeing him work with opera legend Boris Goldovsky while she was a graduate student at the New England Conservatory of music in the early '60s.
“Even back then he was extremely knowledgeable and dependable,” McIntyre said. “... People would be happy when Ed entered the room.”
It was something he carried with him all his life. McIntyre met him again in Sarasota decades later and saw that same passion for music — he hadn’t changed a bit.
Richard Russell, executive director of the Sarasota Opera, admired Alley’s gregarious personality and ability to make anyone he met feel like a longtime friend. Though Alley had a storied career in management — including a stretch as a trustee with the opera — Russell believes his best moments when he was working with artists.
“He would hear a singer that he liked in our season, and he would do his best to connect with them to help promote them if he felt there was special talent,” Russell said. “The thing that just inspired me the most about Ed is his generous spirit, his wanting to do his best to be helpful in whatever way he could.”
Following the passing of his second wife June LeBell in 2017, Alley assumed some of her creative endeavors — notably the Music Mondays program with the Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning. His connections with artists were showcased on that platform, where he displayed both his deep knowledge of music and his intense curiosity for others.
Choral Artists of Sarasota Artistic Director Joe Holt likened Alley, his friend and mentor of over 10 years, to the energizer bunny. He marveled at the way Alley fully embraced people and encouraged them, the breadth of his musical knowledge, and enjoyed Alley’s somewhat saucy sense of humor he kept for close friends.
Whenever he had a hard day, he’d turn to Alley for advice.
“He would put his arm around my shoulder and say ‘Everything’s going to be alright, baby,'” Holt said. “And that was just his nurturing, fatherly way … The way he said ‘baby’ was like ‘Yeah, everything is going to be fine.’ And (that’s) just been running through my head.”
After June's death, Alley also volunteered to take over her duties as the music critic for The Observer. Alley had a wealth of musical insight and experience — he was less acquainted with writing and the journalistic side of the job. Niki Kottmann, former Arts and Entertainment Editor for the Observer, recalled the unique learning curve she and Alley experienced together as editor and writer.
“We were both in a transitional phase and learning,” Kottmann said. “I was learning how to be a managing editor and he was learning how to do writing for a newspaper … we trusted him to do it in the first place because of his extensive music knowledge. He truly was an expert.”
Mathsen moved to Sarasota to be closer to her family and Alley, and now finds herself at a loss for what to do next — though Alley’s will asked Mathsen’s family to care for his dog, Wendie, who has been adopted by Rita’s daughter Rachel.
More than anything, Mathsen wants Alley to be remembered for his generosity and kindness.
“He was really one of the sweetest, kindest men.” Mathsen said. “I don’t know anybody that did not like him.”