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From Studio to Social Media, Alisa Weilerstein Triumphs in Solo Bach

Alisa Weilerstein (photo: Maco Borggreve)

Over the past month, Alisa Weilerstein has cemented her status as one of today’s foremost exponents of Bach’s six suites for unaccompanied cello. Released on April 3, her Pentatone recording of the complete set not only became a Billboard bestseller, but was named “Album of the Week” (Sunday Times, UK) and hailed as “a recording that stands up with the best” (The Guardian). As captured in Vox’s YouTube series, her insights into the first G-major prelude have been viewed more than a million times, and when she chronicled her developing engagement with the suites during the first weeks of the lockdown, she fostered an even closer connection with her online audience. Streaming a new movement each day in her innovative #36DaysOfBach project, Weilerstein saw her Instagram followers grow by more than a thousand, her Twitter impressions increase by more than 60 thousand, and her daily performances reach more than 300 thousand fans on Facebook. As the New York Times observed in a special 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.” Click here to see the final installment of #36DaysOfBach, which streamed live on April 21.

New Bach album

One of the crowning glories of the classical canon, Bach’s suites have long featured in Weilerstein’s programming and have come to play an increasingly prominent part in her career. Capturing her complete account of the suites in a professional studio environment, the new Pentatone release represents a major artistic statement. She told the New York Times:

“I’m at an interesting point of my life – I have a young child – so I wanted to document this moment. … There’s something about Bach which is so timeless, and so sublime, and so human, that it’s universally touching. … It can make one think very deeply, and very clearly.”

Drawing on this thoughtful response, Weilerstein’s interpretations inspired a chorus of critical approval. According to the Washington Post,

“[Bach’s] six beloved cello suites come alive anew in Alisa Weilerstein’s new recording. … These accounts feel like a master class all by themselves.”

Classic Review agreed:

An exceptional cellist and distinguished musician, … Weilerstein has carefully considered the path through these works, finding a magnitude of emotion. Weilerstein’s contemporary approach is respectful of the Baroque origins but brings a highly expressive performance.”

Selecting the recording as its “Album of the Week,” the UK’s Sunday Times affirmed:


“The American’s sumptuous sound and modern technique have greater kinship with Casals and his successors than with ‘period-style’ performers, and her spacious readings have something of du Pré’s emotional style, with shafts of flamboyance in the third suite’s bourrées and the dark fifth’s gavottes. She brings a moving intensity to the sixth suite’s allemande and sarabande. This outstanding artist is a great catch for Pentatone.”

As The Guardian concluded, Weilerstein’s is “a performance that sings.” The review continued:

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 – one captured at exactly the right time. … There are dozens of recordings of these suites to choose from, but this stands up with the best.”


By way of a counterpoint to the studio recording, #36DaysOfBach offers a more spontaneous, unedited approach to each of the same six suites. Starting on March 17, Weilerstein set out to stream a different movement every day on her social media channels. Besides recording single-take performances of all 36 movements, she streamed live accounts of the six suites’ final movements on Facebook, complete with Facebook Live chats for fans to discuss Bach’s music with her.

As the cellist explains, she conceived of the project in response to the current global pandemic, and produced it while sheltering in place at her San Diego home. She said: “In this surreal situation, I want to find a way to continue to communicate through music, even when we are unable to gather with each other in concert halls.” To the New York Times, she added:

Right now all I really want to do is give. I know it sounds really cheesy, but that’s honestly how it feels to be doing it. I just want to have a kind of outpouring of music, of thoughts, and everything else. … The world has basically stopped, and we are forced to reassess what’s important.”

A hit with Weilerstein’s fans worldwide, the project also prompted a spate of positive press, drawing notice from Gramophone, Stereophile, WQXR and the Washington Post, which commented:

“The 2011 MacArthur fellow has been delivering gorgeous performances and leading lively discussions about the suites on Facebook Live as part of her #36DaysOfBach project (and she also recently offered an elucidating walk-through of the prelude of Suite No. 1 in G major … for Vox).

Click here to hear Weilerstein deconstruct the G-major prelude in Vox’s popular “Earworm” series.

High-resolution photos can be downloaded here.

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© 21C Media Group, April 2020


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