Captivating cellist Alisa Weilerstein will be making her debut with the LSO on 17 January, performing the iconic Elgar Cello Concerto. We learn more about her love for the Concerto, her musical roots, and her passions outside of her music career, which at the age of 33 has already spanned two decades.
1) Cereal boxes are the reason she chose the cello
Weilerstein was something of a child prodigy, performing professionally from the age of 13. Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, she fondly describes the modest inspirations behind choosing the cello: ‘when I was around 2½, both my parents [who are musicians] went away. My grandmother came to take care of me, and I got chickenpox, so she made me a little present — a string quartet of instruments made of cereal boxes. The cello was a Rice Krispies box — the end pin was an old toothbrush. She drew the F-holes, and the bow was a chopstick. When my parents came back, I wanted to rehearse with them, but then I realized I wasn’t making any sound, and I got frustrated and asked them for a real cello when I was around four.’
The young Alisa Weilerstein with her cereal box cello (Source: alisaweilerstein.com)
2) She’s the celebrity ambassador for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
Weilerstein was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of nine, and is an inspiring spokesperson for how the disease doesn’t need to be daunting or interfere with a successful career. ‘The perception of diabetes is that you're on dialysis and going blind by the time you're 30, and I just decided I wanted to prove I could sustain a schedule like everyone else. I always thought that if I had a platform, I could help young people who are scared like I was,’ she said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle.
3) Alisa Weilerstein and the Elgar Cello Concerto go back a long way
The Elgar Cello Concerto is a much-loved piece for Alisa Weilerstein, who described the Concerto in an interview with All Things Strings as ‘one of Elgar’s great masterpieces and one of the most personal works for cello that exists’. Her own personal journey with the piece began when fell in love with Jacqueline Du Pre’s recording at the age of seven, before learning the Concerto aged 14 and giving her first performance with an orchestra at the tender age of 16. In 2011 Weilerstein recorded the Concerto in concert with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Daniel Barenboim, and her debut album, released in 2012, featured the Elgar and Carter Cello Concertos and was awarded Classical Recording of the Year from the BBC Music Magazine.
4) She’s an academic all-rounder
Despite devoting her career to performance, Weilerstein majored in Russian History and Literature at Columbia University in New York, inspired by her family’s Russian-Jewish heritage – all while performing professionally. She is also fluent in French and Spanish, and has plans with her husband to learn German. ‘I had dreams of pursuing an academic degree early on – I think as early as middle school,’ said Weilerstein in an interview with Cello.org. ‘I was surrounded by musicians and was taking classes in theory and music history, and I realized I wanted something entirely different for my college experience. I had a terrible fear of becoming a very ‘isolated’ musician who knew nothing of the rest of the world.’
The Weilerstein Trio in 1999. From L–R: Alisa, Donald and Vivian (her parents). (Source: americanpublicmedia.org)
5) Music is a family business
Weilerstein’s parents and family are all professional musicians. Her parents are chamber artists; her father, Donald Weilerstein, was the founding first violinist of the Cleveland Quartet, while her mother, Vivian Hornik Weilerstein, is a pianist who has played with her husband and daughter in the Weilerstein Trio. Both her parents are on the faculties of the New England Conservatory and the Juilliard School. Her younger brother, Joshua, is also a violinist and conductor. Alisa is also married to Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare, who recently conducted Weilerstein playing the Elgar Cello Concerto in Belfast with the Ulster Orchestra, where he is Chief Conductor. ‘We really like working together,’ she said to the Belfast Telegraph before the performance. ‘We don't argue much, but we do have intense discussions about music.’
Alisa Weilerstein will be performing the Elgar Cello Concerto on 17 January 2016, conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado, in a programme that also includes Tchaikovsky’s Overture: The Tempest and Dvořák’s Symphony No 7.