Proms musical families: 'She takes a lot more liberties when she’s playing with me!'

08.10.16
Alisa Weilerstein
The Guardian

What’s it like to play a cello concerto written by your brother? To conduct your wife? To sing alongside your daughter? Michael Hann meets the classical musicians who are keeping it all in the family this Proms season 
 
The married couple Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare makes his Proms debut at Prom 47, leading the Ulster Orchestra. Cellist Alisa Weilerstein joins the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra at Prom 48.
Rafael: We met in Gothenburg. Alisa was there to audition for Gustavo Dudamel and I was playing with the Gothenburg Symphony as an extra. It was February 2009, and we just shook hands and said hello. Then she came to Venezuela that December, and the rest is history. We’ve been together since.
Alisa: When I went to Venezuela, it happened very fast.
Rafael: In Gothenburg, we didn’t have time to talk. Venezuela was completely different. Now we’ve been married for almost three years.
Alisa: Technology was extraordinarily helpful. We were constantly on Skype or WhatsApp. But the first couple of years we were together we saw each other maybe every month – and that was when we were lucky. It shows how strong our relationship was.
Rafael: We love making music together and try to do it as much as possible. She’s a cellist and I’m a conductor, so there’s nothing for us to be competitive about. Music is not done by yourself; we all need to interact with others.
Alisa: We work together fairly often, but we also do separate things. We both travel so much: if one of us is free and the other is working, then the free one will go to the city where the other is working. I love attending his concerts and I know it’s the same the other way. We’re very supportive of each other. I think it’s important for a musical couple to root for each other. I play as a soloist when we work together, so it’s very collaborative. I don’t think of it as “I’m being conducted,” which implies being bossed around or being led. We think of each other as equals, and we learn from each other, bounce ideas off each other.
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Rafael: I’ve seen her in concert with other people – she takes a lot more liberties when she’s playing with me!
Alisa: Of course! You know me much better!
Rafael: This might sound cliched, but music is a big part of our lives. Even when we’re at home, it is always in the subconscious, and sometimes in the physical. When you go home, you don’t think about how you’re going to take off your shoes – it’s just part of what you do.
Alisa: It’s very natural, very integrated into our lives. We’re constantly studying, practising or listening. When we go to each other’s concerts, we give each other comments in a positive way.
Rafael: We can say: “It would be great if you could play this,” or “You should hear this. You should play this because it would fit you very well.” One beautiful thing about music is that you never stop learning: you are always adding different palettes and colours to your life.
Alisa: I might even say: “What do you think about the timing? Would you consider doing it in a slightly different way? Why did you interpret it this way?”
Rafael: The hardest part is that we need to be organised. I am Venezuelan, and before this I was never organised. Just to see each other we have to be organised. We have a rule that we don’t go more than two weeks without seeing each other – and that rule was in place before our daughter, Ariadna, was born. We try to make it even less. But with what we do, it’s almost impossible to see each other every single day.
Alisa: We’re really grateful for having the relationship we have and doing the artistic projects we really want to do. But that means we have to spend more time apart. We try to make our schedule six months at a time so we can say: “You’re free, come to me. Let’s do this together.” Read the rest of the review here