September 10, 2021

Alisa Weilerstein (photo: Marco Borggreve)

“The American cellist plays as if she were dreaming up the music on the spot, with a fluidity and passion that induces goose pimples.” – Financial Times

After making headlines during the pandemic season with her audio and video recordings of Bach’s six suites for unaccompanied cello and her world-premiere performances of A New Day, the cello concerto written for her by Joan Tower, Alisa Weilerstein continues her exploration of these masterpieces with a series of high-profile performances. She launches her new season on Monday with a solo recital of Bach and Golijov at London’s Wigmore Hall (Sep 13), before reprising Tower’s concerto with three of its co-commissioners: the Cleveland Orchestra (Oct 14 & 17), Detroit Symphony (March 11–13) and National Symphony (May 19–21). The cellist’s other 2021-22 highlights include Golijov’s Azul with the Atlanta Symphony (Nov 4 & 6), Prokofiev with the Belgian National Orchestra (Dec 5), a winter tour with the Detroit Symphony, and spring dates with the Cincinnati and San Francisco Symphonies. Weilerstein also looks forward to her next album as an exclusive Pentatone artist; capturing Beethoven’s complete sonatas for cello and piano, this was recorded with her longtime recital partner, Inon Barnatan, for release next May.

Solo Bach at London’s Wigmore Hall
Weilerstein kicks off her new season on Monday at Wigmore Hall, where she pairs Osvaldo Golijov’s Omaramor with Bach’s Second and Third Suites for Unaccompanied Cello (Sep 13). Widely recognized as one of the suites’ leading exponents, her insights into Bach’s first G-major prelude have been viewed more than two million times in a video for Vox’s YouTube series, while her 2020 Pentatone recording of the complete set was a Billboard bestseller, prompting The Guardian to note: “The exceptional cellist’s music emerges with sunlit clarity in … a performance that unfolds at its own pace and in its own space, inward-looking yet confident.” During the first weeks of the pandemic lockdown, she chronicled her developing engagement with the suites on social media, fostering an even closer connection with her online audience by streaming a new movement each day in her innovative #36DaysOfBach project. As the New York Times observed in a dedicated feature, by presenting these more intimate accounts alongside her new studio recording, Weilerstein gave listeners the rare opportunity to learn whether “the pressures of a pandemic [can] change the very sound a musician makes, or help her see a beloved piece in a new way.” She also made video recordings of all six suites, captured this past January at Cleveland’s Severance Hall, that are available for streaming on demand on the Cleveland Orchestra’s Adella platform. Having grown up in Cleveland, Weilerstein has close ties to the city, where she played in the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra before making her professional concert debut with the Cleveland Orchestra at just 13.

Joan Tower’s new concerto: Cleveland, Detroit & DC premieres
Already the dedicatee of cello concertos by Pascal Dusapin and Matthias Pintscher, Weilerstein recently gave the world premiere performance of a third, A New Day, which was commissioned for her from, and dedicated to her by Grammy Award-winner Joan Tower (b. 1938). One of today’s most important living American composers, Tower explains:

“I wrote the music with love to Jeff, my partner of 48 years, who turned 94 in April of 2021. … It was commissioned for and is dedicated to the amazing cellist Alisa Weilerstein.”

Heard this past summer under the baton of Peter Oundjian at the co-commissioning Colorado Music Festival, Weilerstein’s interpretation of the concerto drew glowing praise. In its five-star review, Bachtrack reported:

“Weilerstein made quicksilver magic of Tower’s cleverly written chromatic runs. … As the figurations slow and an end seems to be approaching, the cello, played with deeply moving stillness by Weilerstein, lets all cares go in a final glissando sigh.”

As Sharps and Flatirons affirmed:

“Weilerstein performed with a focus that was evident in both the intensity of her playing, and visually as she felt the complex passages of her part. This was virtuosity at a high level, a performance totally dedicated to the music at hand. Tower could not have wanted more effective advocates for her new work.”

Now Weilerstein gives A New Day’s first performances with each of its three remaining co-commissioners this season. First, under the leadership of Music Director Franz Welser-Möst, she performs it with the Cleveland Orchestra (Oct 14 & 17). Then next spring she reunites with Peter Oundjian to reprise the concerto with the Detroit Symphony (March 11–13), before giving its DC premiere with the National Symphony and Louis Langrée (May 19–21).

Concertos with Atlanta, Detroit, Cincinnati & San Francisco symphonies; plus Europe
Another contemporary composer with whom Weilerstein has extensively worked is Osvaldo Golijov, who is, like her, the recipient of a MacArthur “genius grant” Fellowship. Besides frequently programming the Argentine composer’s solo piece Omaramor, as at Monday’s Wigmore Hall recital and in Ascona, Italy (Sep 26), she is a longtime champion of Azul, the cello concerto he rewrote for her New York premiere performance at the opening of the 2007 Mostly Mozart Festival. Having since played the work with numerous orchestras around the world, this fall she revisits it under the baton of James Gaffigan for her upcoming return to the Atlanta Symphony (Nov 4 & 6), with which her 2013 debut proved “mindblowing” (ArtsATL).

Later this season, Weilerstein looks forward to three further U.S. concerto collaborations. In the New Year, she joins the Detroit Symphony, this time with Music Director Jader Bignamini, for accounts of Dvořák’s concerto at the orchestra’s home and on tour in Florida (Jan 13–20). Then next spring she performs two classics of the cello repertoire with Karina Canellakis, playing Elgar’s beloved concerto with the Cincinnati Symphony (March 4 & 5) and Strauss’s Don Quixote with the San Francisco Symphony (May 13–15).

This fall, meanwhile, the cellist undertakes two further concerto collaborations in Europe. At the end of next week, she heads to Bucharest, Romania, for the George Enescu Festival, where she performs both Haydn’s First Cello Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme with the Radio Romania Chamber Orchestra (Sep 18). Then in December she joins the Belgian National Orchestra and conductor Hugh Wolff for an account of Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante at the famed Bozar Centre for Fine Arts (Dec 5).

Beethoven Sonatas with Inon Barnatan on record
May 2022 marks the release of Weilerstein’s forthcoming Pentatone recording of Beethoven’s complete Sonatas for Cello and Piano, made with her frequent collaborator and recital partner, Inon Barnatan. Her rapport with Israeli-American pianist is such that after their performance at La Jolla Music Society this past spring, the San Diego Union Tribune marveled:

“The two longtime collaborators deftly shifted from slow, graceful passages into rapid fire melodies, gentle ruminations, ebulliently cascading lines and back again. Each was delivered with seamless élan and deeply felt conviction to create a triumphant musical pas de deux. Weilerstein’s gloriously vibrant tone and pinpoint execution were matched by Barnatan’s alternately supple and soaring piano work. Both listened as intently as they played, the better to imbue the notes with grace and exhilaration.”

High-resolution photos can be downloaded here.

Alisa Weilerstein: 2021–22 engagements
Sep 13
London, UK
BACH: Cello Suites Nos. 2 & 3

Sep 18
Bucharest, Romania
George Enescu Festival (with livestream)
Radio Romania Chamber Orchestra / Horia Andreescu
HAYDN: Cello Concerto No. 1 in C
TCHAIKOVSKY: Variations on a Rococo Theme

Sep 26
Ascona, Italy
Settimane Musicali Ascona Festival
CHOPIN: Sonata for cello and piano, Op. 65 (with Yulianna Avdeeva, piano)

Oct 14 & 17
Cleveland, OH
Cleveland Orchestra / Franz Welser-Möst
JOAN TOWER: A New Day, Cello Concerto (Cleveland premiere of Cleveland Orchestra co-commission)

Nov 4 & 6
Atlanta, GA
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra / James Gaffigan

Dec 5
Brussels, Belgium
Belgian National Orchestra / Hugh Wolff
PROKOFIEV: Sinfonia Concertante

Jan 13–20
Concerts and tour with Detroit Symphony Orchestra / Jader Bignamini
DVOŘÁK: Cello Concerto in B minor
Jan 13: Detroit, MI
Jan 17: West Palm Beach, FL
Jan 20: Sarasota, FL

March 4 & 5
Cincinnati, OH
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra / Karina Canellakis
ELGAR: Cello Concerto

March 11–13
Detroit, MI
Detroit Symphony Orchestra / Peter Oundjian
JOAN TOWER: A New Day, Cello Concerto (Detroit premiere of Detroit Symphony co-commission)

May 13–15
San Francisco, CA
San Francisco Symphony / Karina Canellakis
STRAUSS: Don Quixote

May 19–21
Washington, DC
National Symphony Orchestra / Louis Langrée
JOAN TOWER: A New Day, Cello Concerto (DC premiere of NSO co-commission)

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© 21C Media Group, September 2021