Cellist Weilerstein impresses with interpretation of Haydn

11.03.07
Alisa Weilerstein
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

If not musical royalty, cellist Alisa Weilerstein at least comes from the noble class.

Her parents, Donald and Vivian Hornik Weilerstein, are celebrated musicians who immersed their daughter in music from an early age. For years they have performed as the Weilerstein Trio.

Last night with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the 25-year-old cellist indeed played as if she were born to the rank, performing, as it were, a work fit for a prince, Haydn's Cello Concerto in D major. Haydn wrote it for Prince Esterhazy, the Hungarian nobleman in the 18th century.

Weilerstein impressed here two years ago, performing Dvorak's Cello Concerto, but she has improved. Rather than burn out in the crucible of the solo circuit, the experience seems to have steeled her to trust herself. She unleashed a robust and winning tone throughout the concerto; lines were put forward with the confidence of an attorney's argument.

I wonder, too, if Weilerstein isn't being more confident about the somewhat unorthodox way in which she holds her cello. Perhaps I just didn't notice it two seasons ago, but last night at Heinz Hall she held the neck of the instrument well away from her body, whereas most cellists rest it on their shoulder. It was almost as if she were playing a double bass. This position allowed Weilerstein to support her left hand with solid weight on the fingerboard, causing a resounding mahogany timbre to leap out.

The hallmarks of her phrasing were precision and intelligence, something you'd expect from a virtuoso who graduated from Columbia University (with a degree in Russian history, no less!). But her playing was far from academic, even tapping into some energetic, rock-inspired bowing in the finale.