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Music Features

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein on Crossover

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Alisa Weilerstein. Photo credit: Decca c Robin Thomson

The New York Times calls Alisa Weilerstein the "sovereign of the American cello," and continues, "it’s not technical brilliance that makes Alisa Weilerstein’s recording of Dvorak’s much-loved cello concerto special, though the young American cellist has it in spades. It’s the take-no-prisoners emotional investment that is evident in every bar, but never more so than in the heart-wrenching slow movement, where Ms. Weilerstein’s cello appears to take on human shape."

The program they're taking about is the subject of our program this week—Ms. Weilerstein's latest Decca release, Alisa Weilerstein: Dvorak. On it she performs the Dvorak Cello Concerto and several of Dvorak's shorter pieces: Silent Woods, Songs My Mother Taught Me, and the Slavonic Dance, Op 46, No 8, in duet with pianist Anna Polonsky.

The MacArthur Foundation awarded her a MacArthur “genius grant,” saying, “A young cellist whose emotionally resonant performances of both traditional and contemporary music have earned her international recognition.” In 2010, Decca Records signed her as their first cellist in more than 30 years.

Weilerstein's grandmother assembled a makeshift set of instruments from cereal boxes to entertain her while she was ill with chicken pox. Although immediately drawn to the Rice Krispies box cello, Weilerstein was frustrated that it didn’t produce enough sound. Her parents bought her a real cello when she was four, and she gave her first public performance six months later.

At 13, she played Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations in her Cleveland Orchestra debut, and she soon made her first Carnegie Hall appearance with the New York Youth Symphony. A graduate of the Young Artist Program at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and from Columbia University with a degree in history, she became a Celebrity Advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was nine.

Her parents, violinist Donald and pianist Vivian Hornik Weilerstein, make up the noted Weilerstein Trio with Alisa, the trio-in-residence at Boston’s New England Conservatory. Donald Weilerstein is the founding first violinist of the Cleveland Quartet. Alisa's brother is violinist and conductor Joshua Weilerstein.  

Weilerstein also champions contemporary music. She gave the New York premiere of Osvaldo Golijov's cello concerto Azul, the world premiere of Lera Auerbach's 24 Preludes for Cello and Piano, and premiered Philadelphia composer Joseph Hallman's Cello Concerto with the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra.

Crossover, with Jill Pasternak, airs Saturday mornings at 11:30 on WRTI-FM, with an encore Friday evenings at 7 on WRTI-HD2. Both airings are available on the All-Classical web stream at wrti.org.