Cellist Alisa Weilerstein with the Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboim, cond.

Alisa Weilerstein
Strings Magazine

By Mai Kawabata

On stage at the Berlin Philharmonie, April 5, 2012

The Festtage 2012, a mini-festival of orchestral and lieder concerts in Berlin, features Daniel Barenboim as both conductor (of two orchestras, the Staatskapelle Berlin and the Filharmonica della Scala) and pianist.

As part of the festival, the 29-year-old American cellist Alisa Weilerstein played the Elgar Concerto. 

Weilerstein and Barenboim had joined forces in 2010 for this same concerto with the Berliner Philharmoniker at the Sheldonian Theater, in Oxford, a performance that was recorded live and issued on DVD to widespread acclaim. Reviewers commented on Weilerstein’s musicality and convincing interpretation, notwithstanding the poignant memory of the late British cellist Jacqueline du Pre, who had made the Elgar her signature piece (and had been married to Barenboim).  

Weilerstein mentioned how intense it had been to perform in Oxford, du Pre’s hometown, in an interview with Rory Williams for this magazine in January 2011.

Since then, she has been named a MacArthur Fellow, though she is yet to announce how she plans to spend the $500,000 cash award.

For now, she appears to be as focused on her high-level cello playing as ever. 

Her performance on April 5 was absolutely flawless. It was especially remarkable for the silky tone of her pianos and pianissimos, most noticeable right near the end of the finale, just before the dramatic return of the opening recitative in E minor. Her diminuendo fermata on the B above middle C floated over the change in harmony in the orchestra (from G major to B major). It was one of those “goosebump” moments in which time seems to stand still.  

Here was a case of a perfect technique that is put to the use of making musical sense, and making it as expressive as possible. 

And, for those who are wondering, her idiosyncratic bow-hold does create an optical illusion—the bow goes straight even though it looks like it can’t possibly.

The recording of the Elgar that she will soon make with the Staatskapelle, again under the sure-handed direction of Barenboim, will no doubt be greatly anticipated not only by her fans, but also those fond of this piece, long an audience favorite.