Los Angeles Music Preview: TCHAIKOVSKYFEST: GUSTAVO DUDAMEL & ALISA WEILERSTEIN (Los Angeles Philharmonic at Disney Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on February 27, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


I had been following cellist Alisa Weilerstein for years, but until last March it was only on recordings and YouTube. Just before seeing her perform Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, I wrote, “The phenomenal American cellist Alisa Weilerstein has attracted attention worldwide for playing that combines a natural virtuosic command and technical precision with impassioned musicianship. You are definitely promised a tour de force performance from this MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant recipient.”

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein

But that was an understatement. Her performance was more than a mere exceptional achievement. And while she no doubt offered particularly adroit maneuvering and technique in handling a concerto which is incredibly challenging for the soloist—especially the cadenza, which in the Shostakovich is its own movement—her unity with her cello combined with a ferocious force-of-nature made it one of the most memorable performances of a lifetime. I can assert without hesitating that next to Yo-Yo Ma she is our greatest living cellist.

Well, get ready. Starting tonight, Weilerstein will be appearing at Disney Hall through Saturday with conductor Gustavo Dudamel as part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s TchaikovskyFest. She will be ripping into Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations, his delightful homage to the 18th century and his idol Mozart, a piece she played with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall two years ago as part of the Piatigorsky International Cello Festival. The press may toss around terms such as “rising star,” but I assure you she is firmly part of the firmament.

Ms. Weilerstein signed an exclusive recording contract with Decca in October 2010 and is the first cellist to sign with the record label in over thirty years. Four weeks ago, she released an all-Dvořák album, which features his Cello Concerto in B minor and Silent Woods, both recorded with Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic. You can hear a brilliant combination of aggressiveness, theatricality, and soulfulness on the recording, but your best bet is to see her live.

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel

Also on the program will be Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, which has been compared to Beethoven’s Fifth in its trajectory from tragedy to triumph. Of Dudamel’s recording, critic Blair Sanderson commented that he obviously has something important to say that does more than just provide a novel twist to extremely familiar music. From the outset, Dudamel treats the score as if it were brand new and not covered in accretions of past performances: The rhythmic details and full orchestration of the Allegro stand out in high relief; the lyricism of the Andante cantabile is touching and hauntingly tragic; the Valse is delicate and picante, yet surprisingly ominous; and the Finale is considerably shorn of bombast thanks to the real explosiveness and fury Dudamel inspires in the musicians. Taken altogether, the pacing of the symphony is also given a makeover, insofar as Dudamel lets it go at its own speed and doesn’t rush to get to the big climaxes, but lets the tempos and phrasing develop according to necessity.

Opening the program (except on Casual Friday) will be the Polonaise and Waltz from Eugene Onegin, both of which show Tchaikovsky at his brightest and most elegant.

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photos courtesy of LA Phil

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Alisa Weilerstein, cello
Tchaikovsky: Polonaise and Waltz from Eugene Onegin*
Tchaikovsky: Rococo Variations
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5
Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 8:00 pm
Friday, February 28, 2014 at 8:00 pm (*Except Friday)
Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 2:00 pm
Walt Disney Concert Hall
for tickets, call 323.850.2000 or visit www.LAPhil.com

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