Alisa Weilerstein

Alisa Weilerstein marks her Decca Classics debut with searing recordings of Cello Concertos by Edward Elgar and Elliott Carter

Outstanding young artist continues her acclaimed association with Daniel Barenboim

‘In a sense Ms. Weilerstein is a throwback to an earlier age of classical performers: not content merely to serve as a vessel for the composer’s wishes, she inhabits a piece fully and turns it to her own ends.’ New York Times

Expressive daring, technical command and visionary musicianship belong to the extraordinary blend of artistic qualities at the heart of Alisa Weilerstein’s debut recording for Decca Classics. The 30-year-old American cellist’s eagerly awaited album, set to take its place among major landmarks of the catalogue, presents the unique coupling of two great cello concertos by Edward Elgar and Elliott Carter, recorded in partnership with the Berlin Staatskapelle under Daniel Barenboim. A stream of critical plaudits and five-star review boldly underline Weilerstein’s place among the finest musicians of her generation. ‘Listening to her play is a rich experience,’ observed BBC Music Magazine. ‘Among [young] soloists of world renown … surely she is one of the most extraordinary.’ The New York Times, meanwhile, declared that her ‘technical abilities serve a taste for sweep and intensity; she performs with soulful expression and physical abandon.’

Already in September 2008, New York Magazine suggested that Weilerstein was ‘Yo-Yo Ma’s heiress apparent as sovereign of the American cello’. Following her debut at the BBC Proms in Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto, the Independent evoked favourable comparisons with another great performer: ‘We must cast our minds back to Rostropovich to remember an account of the slow movement as potent and technically accomplished as this.’ In short, her art has moved critics and public alike with its potent blend of personal expression, profound musical understanding and intense humanity.

It would be hard to imagine a richer programme or finer combination of artists, especially so given Barenboim’s close association with both works and the intensity of the musical relationship between soloist, orchestra and conductor. Performing the Elgar Cello Concerto with Maestro Barenboim has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life”, Weilerstein observes. They first explored Elgar’s iconic work together in 2010, leading to a white-hot performance that was televised to millions by the European Broadcasting Union from the intimate setting of the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford. Their account was described by the Guardian’s reviewer as “the most technically complete and emotionally devastating performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto that I have ever heard live”.

Weilerstein’s heartfelt interpretation has grown and matured thanks to her experience of working with Barenboim. “I have learnt so much from him, not only about this beloved piece but also about myself as a cellist”, she notes. “To record my debut with Maestro Barenboim and Staatskapelle Berlin is a dream come true.”

Elgar completed his Cello Concerto in the summer of 1919. The work reflects his melancholy at the senseless inhumanity of the First World War. Although the piece suffered from inadequate rehearsal time at its first performance in October 1919, it was soon recognised as a masterwork of the cello repertoire. The composition touched a vast international audience in the 1960s with the release of Jacqueline du Pré’s first recording.
Alisa Weilerstein’s new recording projects the young soloist’s profoundly personal vision of the score. “I first heard Elgar’s Cello Concerto when I was about seven or eight and was drawn to it instantly, haunted by it”, recalls Weilerstein. “I listened to Jacqueline du Pré’s recording almost as a daily ritual. She became my childhood heroine. But when I was twelve and started working seriously on the piece, I knew I had to put her recordings aside. Her interpretation was so convincing, so powerful. I had to force myself to find my own way.” The young cellist’s artistic development evolved naturally over the years, aided by significant debuts during her early teens with the Cleveland Orchestra and at Carnegie Hall and complemented by studies in Russian history at Columbia University. In 2010 Weilerstein became the first cellist to sign to Decca since her compatriot Lynn Harrell joined the label’s roster of artists more than three decades earlier. The following year she was awarded a prestigious Genius Grant by the MacArthur Foundation, a rare distinction for a classical musician.

Elliott Carter’s Cello Concerto, commissioned for Yo-Yo Ma by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, entered the world on 27 September 2001. Daniel Barenboim conducted its premiere performance in Chicago’s Symphony Hall.

“I am delighted to pair Elgar’s concerto with Elliott Carter’s Cello Concerto”, comments Alisa Weilerstein. “Carter is a composer who really likes performers and is excited by [each] instrument’s potential. He’s never austere or relentless – I always sense a twinkle there! It’s delightful and huge fun to play.”

Alisa Weilerstein closes her debut album with Max Bruch’s haunting Kol Nidrei, first published in Berlin in 1881 and in part based on the eponymous chant for the evening service on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish year. The cellist’s compelling artistry and sublime musicianship, intensified by the rich sound of an instrument made by William Forster in 1790, informs all three performances on this recording.

In September Weilerstein once again joined forces with Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Staatskapelle for two performances of Carter’s Cello Concerto during the Musikfest Berlin and continued her exploration of Elgar’s Cello Concerto with the Hallé Orchestra and Sir Mark Elder. She is set to revisit Elgar’s timeless masterwork throughout the 2012/13 season with the Gulbenkian Orchestra and Lawrence Foster (25 & 26 October), the Philadelphia Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda (13, 14 & 15 December), a series of performances in Spain and with the National Symphony Orchestra and Christoph Eschenbach in Washington DC (2 & 4 May 2013).