Alisa Weilerstein's 2018-19 season promises a busy schedule of performances for the American cellist, especially in conjunction with the release of Transfigured Night on the Pentatone label.
Featuring Norway’s Trondheim Soloists, the new disc comprises three masterworks of the First and Second Viennese Schools – Haydn’s First and Second Cello Concertos and Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, from which the album takes its title; two Scandinavian performances of the album repertoire with the same ensemble follow soon after. In the spring, the cellist returns to Verklärte Nacht, when she tours Europe and the United States with pianist and frequent collaborator Inon Barnatan, as well as violinist Sergey Khachatryan and percussionist Colin Currie. Between these bookends, Weilerstein’s season confirms her standing as what the UK’s Daily Telegraphsuccinctly calls “truly a phenomenon.” She gives performances of Shostakovich’s Second Cello Concerto with five different orchestras and conductors throughout Europe and in Toronto, and tours the U.S. playing Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with Semyon Bychkov conducting the Czech Philharmonic. She also performs the Schumann Concerto with the Rotterdam Philharmonic in Belgium and the Netherlands, and gives accounts of Saint-Saëns’s First Cello Concerto, Britten’s Symphony for Cello and Orchestra, Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote, and Bloch’s Schelomo: Rhapsodie Hébraïque in cities from San Diego to Vienna. Finally, she gives two performances, with the composer leading both Copenhagen’s DR SymfoniOrkestret and the Cincinnati Symphony, of Matthias Pintscher’s new cello concerto, Un despertar (An Awakening), written for her and premiered last season. In the midst of her orchestral engagements are five solo performances of Bach’s complete cello suites, in Beverly Hills, Boston’s Celebrity Series, the Saint-Denis Festival in Paris, the Elbiphilharmonie as part of the Schleswig-Holstein Festival, and for Cal Performances in Berkeley.
Transfigured Night Performances
It was under Weilerstein’s leadership that Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht was hailed as an “absolutely gorgeous half-hour: a mesmerizing traversal” (Seen and Heard International) at the 2015 Aspen Music Festival. Likewise, on an extensive U.S. tour with London’s Academy of St. Martin in the Fields in 2013, her account of Haydn’s C-major concerto prompted the San Diego Story’s critic to conclude that “I will never again hear this work played so well.” Now the composers are brought together on Transfigured Night, the first release in Weilerstein’s new exclusive multi-album contract with the Pentatone label, which specializes in high-end, five-channel surround sound. The album also marks her first collaboration as Artistic Partner (a new, multi-year role) with Norway’s celebrated string orchestra, the Trondheim Soloists, led by Artistic Director and concertmaster Geir Inge Lotsberg. Besides their Sweden and Denmark concerts in September, Weilerstein and the ensemble are planning tours of Europe and the U.S. in seasons to come.
Weilerstein’s close rapport with longstanding recital partner Inon Barnatan impressed Voix des Arts as “a level of musical symbiosis that transcends casual partnership,” while the Boston Globe found that “their interpretations were like a series of marvelously expressive close-ups: every note and phrase pinned to an exact emotion.” When they tour the U.S. and Europe together in the spring, it will be with a piano trio version of Verklärte Nacht made by Schoenberg’s composition student, Austrian pianist Eduard Steuermann. Schoenberg himself produced two versions of this most important of his early works. It premiered in 1902 as a string sextet, but he arranged it for string orchestra in 1917, revising it in 1943; that version is the one on Transfigured Night. For Steuermann’s trio arrangement, as well as for Beethoven’s “Ghost” Trio, Armenian violinist Sergey Khachatryan joins Weilerstein and Barnatan on tour. Rounding out the program is another unusual adaptation of a well-known work: an arrangement for piano trio and percussion by pianist Victor Derevianko – one of Barnatan’s early teachers – of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15; Scottish percussionist Colin Currie joins the trio for this piece.
Concertos by Shostakovich, Dvořák, Pintscher and others
Weilerstein’s interpretations of Shostakovich’s two concertos consistently inspire rave reviews. She played the First at the BBC Proms in early August with conductor Karina Canellakis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and turns to the Second for performances throughout the coming season. Her 2016 recording of both concertos with Pablo Heras-Casado and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra proved “powerful and even mesmerizing” (San Francisco Chronicle), and a live performance of the Second Concerto prompted The Guardian to declare: “It takes an exceptionally responsive cellist to make sense of it all, and Alisa Weilerstein proved herself to be one of the few who can.” Her first performance of the Second Concerto this season is with Sweden’s Gothenburg Philharmonic led by conductor Christoph Eschenbach, and she returns to the work with the Orquesta Nacional de España and David Afkham; the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, led by her brother, Joshua Weilerstein; the Toronto Symphony Orchestraunder Thomas Dausgaard; and Spain’s Valencia Orchestra, conducted by Alondra de la Parra.
When Weilerstein turns to the Dvořák Cello Concerto for a fall U.S. tour with the Czech Philharmonic led by Semyon Bychkov, she will be reuniting with two old friends: the work and the orchestra. In a 2016 interview with The Times of London she characterized the concerto as “arguably the best piece ever written for cello and orchestra, and I still think that after playing it 1,040 times.” The Czech Philharmonic, led by its late conductor Jiří Bělohlávek, partnered her on a 2014 recording of the work that topped the U.S. classical chart, and impressed the New York Times with Weilerstein’s “take-no-prisoners emotional investment that is evident in every bar.”
Other orchestral performances for the cellist this season include Schumann’s sole cello concerto – which won her praise in The Guardian in 2016 for a “thrillingly realized” interpretation – on tour with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra led by Lahav Shaniin the Netherlands and Belgium. She plays two performances of Britten’s Symphony for Cello and Orchestra, with Germany’s Würth Philharmonic and with the San Diego Symphony led by her husband, conductor Rafael Payare. She also joins Payare for Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote at the Gala Opening Concert of Northern Ireland’s Ulster Orchestra, of which he is Music Director. With the Paris Chamber Orchestra, she performs Saint-Saëns’s First Cello Concerto; with Austria’s Tonkünstler-Orchester, she plays three performances of Bloch’s Schelomo: Rhapsodie Hébraïque; and with the Jacksonville Symphony, led by Courtney Lewis, the cellist gives one last account for the season of the Dvořák Concerto.
Running parallel to her facility with and devotion to the standard cello repertoire, Weilerstein is also a champion of new music, and has premiered works by Lera Auerbach, Pascal Dusapin, Osvaldo Golijov, Joseph Hallman, and Steven Mackey, among others. Two seasons ago, she played the world premiere of Matthias Pintscher’s new cello concerto,Un despertar (An Awakening), in three performances with the Boston Symphony under conductor François-Xavier Roth, and reprised it this past spring with the co-commissioning Danish Radio Symphony. This season she plays the piece twice under Pintscher’s own direction, first with Copenhagen’s DR SymfoniOrkestret and then again in April with the Cincinnati Symphony. Pintscher describes the tonal quality of Un despertar as being derived from the dark, warm singing of a male human voice, and took his inspiration from “this unbelievably lyrical dark gold which [Weilerstein] has within her playing.”