A Classical Homecoming: Cellist Alisa Weilerstein opens Aspen Music Festival winter series
If You Go …
Who: Alisa Weilerstein
What: Aspen Music Festival Winter Music Series
When: Thursday, Feb. 12, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Harris Concert Hall
Tickets and more information: http://www.aspenmusicfestival.com
Cellist Alisa Weilerstein made her debut on stage in Aspen 20 years ago, as a precocious student at the Aspen Music Festival and School. But the acclaimed musician, now 32, had been coming to the annual summer festival since she was 3 months old.
Her parents were long-serving members of the Music School faculty and brought Weilerstein along as her mother taught piano and her father taught violin.
“It was wonderful,” Weilerstein told me from Taiwan, where she performed with Taipei Symphony Orchestra during an Asian tour in late January. “I also formed some of my longest-lasting friendships in Aspen. It was a very important, formative place for me.”
She recalls playing Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 in the music tent with David Zinman conducting, and performing in the orchestra for operas like “The Magic Flute” and “La Traviata” (still the only opera performances in her career) in her early teen years. Her teachers in those formative years included masters like David Finkel and Dorothy DeLay.
As an adult, Weilerstein has become a leading cellist, and was awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2011. Along the way, she’s frequently made it back to Aspen as a guest performer — including a family recital in 2012 with her parents and her brother Joshua, who is a conductor.
On Feb. 12, she returns to open the Aspen Music Festival’s Winter Music Series at Harris Concert Hall. Though she spent summers here throughout her childhood, and has frequently returned to perform, the recital brings her to Aspen for her first winter visit.
The program for the performance of unaccompanied cello pieces includes two of Bach’s cello suites, bracketed by Golijov’s “Omaramor” and a Kodaly cello sonata.
“I wanted to make a Bach circle in a way — well, it’s really a Bach sandwich isn’t it?” she says.
She aimed to place the iconic Bach suites between two more contemporary composers.
“In the 19th century [after Bach] there was not really any great solo cello repertoire,” she says. “It didn’t really come into the fore as a solo instrument until the 20th century. And that really started with the Kodaly sonata, which is really the centerpiece of the program. It’s one of my favorite pieces in the world and one of Kodaly’s best.”
The Kodaly piece, she notes, displays a diverse array of emotion and musical color, while demanding some eye-catching technique for a live audience.
“It’s visually quite fun to watch because it uses so many techniques which Kodaly demands that are not normal to see in a western classical recital,” she says. “So it’s fun for me to play and it’s fun to watch.”
As an in-demand performer around the globe, Weilerstein stresses the importance educating the next generation of music lovers, while also engaging today’s working composers and providing them an audience. She has close working relationships with a half-dozen composers, she says.
“I’m trying to promote the music of my time and music that I believe in,” she says. “I’m trying to enrich as many audiences as possible through performance and education and through different ways of making music available to people.”
The Winter Music Series will continue on Feb. 19 with a Brahms-themed evening performance by pianist Orli Shaham and closes March 14 with a recital of Schumann works by pianist Vladmir Feltsman.
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