Alisa Weilerstein ‒ Biography
American cellist Alisa Weilerstein has attracted widespread attention worldwide for her combination of natural virtuosic command and technical precision with impassioned musicianship. The intensity of her playing has regularly been lauded, as has the spontaneity and sensitivity of her interpretations. Following her Zankel Hall recital debut, New York Magazine wrote: “Whatever she plays sounds custom-composed for her, as if she has a natural affinity with everything.”
Weilerstein was born in 1982 into a distinguished musical family (her father Donald was first violin in the Cleveland Quartet; her mother is the noted pianist Vivian Weilerstein). She made her professional debut with the Cleveland Orchestra when she was 13 and her Carnegie Hall debut with the New York Youth Orchestra in March 1997. In 2000 she received an Avery Fisher Career Grant and in 2000-01 she was selected for two prestigious young artists programmes: the ECHO (European Concert Hall Organization) “Rising Stars” recital series and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Society Two. In May 2004, she graduated from Columbia University in New York with a degree in Russian History. She was named the winner of the 2006 Leonard Bernstein Award, and in 2008 she was awarded Lincoln Center’s Martin E. Segal prize for exceptional achievement. A graduate of the Young Artist Program at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where she studied with Richard Weiss, she was appointed artist-in-residence at the institute beginning August 2009.
In November 2009, Alisa Weilerstein was one of four artists selected to participate in a White House classical music event that included student workshops hosted by the First Lady, Michelle Obama, and playing for guests including President Obama and the First Family. In December 2009 she was the soloist on a tour of Venezuela with the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra and Gustavo Dudamel.
Another milestone in her career came in spring 2010: Weilerstein made her Berlin Philharmonic debut playing the Elgar Concerto with conductor Daniel Barenboim; the concert was repeated in Oxford, televised live around the world and later issued on DVD. The Guardian reviewer of the Oxford concert wrote: “Alisa Weilerstein gave the most technically complete and emotionally devastating performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto that I have ever heard live.” In August of that year, Weilerstein made her BBC Proms debut with the Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vänskä playing Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1, a work she performed in spring 2011 with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic under Yuri Temirkanov on a US tour.
Alisa Weilerstein signed an exclusive contract with Decca Classics in 2011. Her first recording under the agreement, a coupling of the concertos by Elgar and Elliott Carter, with Barenboim conducting the Berlin Staatskapelle, was released in January 2013. At the 2014 BBC Music Magazine Awards it scooped the Recording of the Year Award as well as the Concerto Award. The New York Times acclaimed “the soloist’s superb control keenly matched by the conductor’s insightful support”. In April 2014 Decca issued her new recording of the Dvořák Cello Concerto, with Jiří Bělohlávek conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Huffington Post reviewed it is “…as if Dvořák were sending her the still-wet-inked score, straight from his head to her heart and hands”, and the Daily Telegraph described it as “spine-tingling” and “irresistible”. October will bring the release of her first solo album.
Alisa Weilerstein has already appeared with all of the other major orchestras throughout North America and Europe, with conductors including Marin Alsop, Daniel Barenboim, Pablo Heras-Casado, Sir Andrew Davis, Gustavo Dudamel, Sir Mark Elder, Christoph Eschenbach, Alan Gilbert, Manfred Honeck, Marek Janowski, Neeme Jarvi, Paavo Järvi, Jeffrey Kahane, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Ludovic Morlot, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, Peter Oundjian, Matthias Pintscher, Donald Runnicles, Yuri Temirkanov, Jaap van Zweden, Osmo Vänskä, Simone Young and David Zinman. She also appears at major music festivals throughout the world as a soloist, recitalist and chamber player, including as part of a core group of musicians at the Spoleto Festival USA and performing with her parents, Donald and Vivian Hornik Weilerstein, as the Weilerstein Trio.
Committed to expanding the cello repertoire, Ms. Weilerstein is a fervent champion of new music. She has performed Osvaldo Golijov’s Azul for cello and orchestra around the world. She also frequently performs Golijov’s Omaramor for solo cello. In 2008 she gave the world premiere of Lera Auerbach’s 24 Preludes for cello and piano with the composer at the Caramoor Festival.
Highlights of Alisa Weilerstein’s 2012-13 season included North American and European tours with pianist Inon Barnatan and her debut with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields for a 16-city United States tour. She gave concerts in Berlin performing the Elliott Carter Cello Concerto with Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Staatskapelle, appeared with Gianandrea Noseda and the Philadelphia Orchestra, made her debut with conductor Lionel Bringuier and the Atlanta Symphony and performed at the Kennedy Center with Christoph Eschenbach and the National Symphony Orchestra. Her festival appearances in summer 2013 included Ravinia, Vail, Aspen, Grand Teton, Bonn Beethovenfest, Tivoli and Aarhus.
In the 2013/14 season Ms. Weilerstein is artist-in-residence with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and has engagements with the Toronto, San Francisco, Boston, Dallas and Chicago symphonies and the New York, Los Angeles, Oslo and Israel philharmonic orchestras. Further plans include performances with the Australian Chamber, Philharmonia, Hallé and Zurich Tonhalle orchestras, the Netherlands Philharmonic and the NHK Symphony Orchestra as well as recitals in Europe and North America.