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Decidedly duo recital by Weilerstein, Barnatan launches Symphony Center chamber series

Submitted by on Oct 27, 2012 – 4:12 pm

Preview: We look at the classical series in Symphony Center Presents’ 2012-13 season. Leading off in chamber music, cellist Alisa Weilerstein extols her equal partnership with pianist Inon Barnatan.

By Lawrence B. Johnson

Ask cellist Alisa Weilerstein about the recital she plays Oct. 28 at Orchestra Hall, and she will quickly note that the best thing about the program is that it’s actually a duo recital for two equally important voices – and that she’s lucky to be teamed up with Israeli pianist and longtime collaborator Inon Barnatan.

Their concert opens the chamber music portion of this season’s Symphony Center Presents series, which also offers four more chamber concerts, nine solo piano recitals and two performances by visiting orchestras.

“Orchestra Hall is a wonderful place to play. I’m always aware of the audience, and I feel like I’m having a conversation with everyone,” says Weilerstein, a native New Yorker and 2011 recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.” “This is why I’m so grateful to partner with Inon. He’s such a remarkable musician with so much to give. It’s very difficult to find that. We’re also great friends, and we always want to do true duo programs.”

The Oct. 28 program includes two works likely to be quite familiar – Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 5, No. 2, and Stravinsky’s “Suite Italienne,” drawn from his 1920 commedia dell’arte style ballet “Pulcinella.”

Weilerstein calls the Beethoven sonata “a masterpiece of his early period. There’s something deeply tragic about the first movement – also foreboding, even terrifying. But the scherzo is incredibly funny. It just spills over with a sly humor that’s typical of Beethoven.”

Perhaps less frequently heard are the cello sonatas by Britten and Chopin. Weilerstein says the latter is doubly appealing for cellists because Chopin’s writing for the instrument is idiomatic and yet it captures the buoyant lyricism characteristic of his piano music.

Britten’s Cello Sonata, a work in five brief movements written in 1961 for Mstislav Rostropovich, “feels almost Russian,” says Weilerstein. “It’s thick and dramatic and quite emotional. It’s also very orchestral, lush and broad. But the mood is constantly changing, from impressionistic to tragic to a moto perpetuo finale that flies by at blistering speed. It’s really wonderful. I’m a big fan of Britten.”

Weilerstein comes to Orchestra Hall two days before the release of her new CD pairing of cello concertos by Edward Elgar and Elliot Carter with the Berlin Staatskapelle and conductor Daniel Barenboim. The Carter concerto was given its premiere in 2001 by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Barenboim, the CSO’s music director at the time, conducting. Still productive, Carter will be 104 years old in December.

“The Elgar recording was the culmination of two years of work with Maestro Barenboim,” says Weilerstein, who had first approached the conductor for consultation on the Dvorak Cello Concerto.

Barenboim was married to the celebrated English cellist Jacqueline du Pré, who died of multiple sclerosis in 1987 at age 42, but whose career was ended by the disease at age 28.

Weilerstein says that despite the warm relationship she had developed with Barenboim, she was extremely reluctant to ask his advice about the Elgar Concerto, a work that came to be widely associated with du Pré. Only after repeated urging from a colleague did she take the Elgar to Barenboim.

“Taking that step was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life,” Weilerstein says. “Jacqueline was my hero, so this was really a loaded thing. But Maestro Barenboim was very receptive and we worked on the concerto over a long period – until he asked me if I would play it with him and the Berlin Philharmonic.

“Later, when I was working out a plan with Decca to record the Elgar (with the Staatskapelle Berlin), I asked Maestro Barenboim if he would conduct. He agreed immediately, and suggested that we pair it with the Carter concerto. So I learned the Carter from scratch.”

Here’s a look at what else is ahead for the 2012-13 season in all three classical series under the banner of Symphony Center Presents.

Chamber Music:

  • March 10, 2013 – Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin; Lambert Orkis, piano. The German virtuoso plays a Mozart sonata and works by Schubert, Lutoslawski and Saint-Saëns.
  • April 10, 2013 – Emerson String Quartet. Janácek String Quartet No. 2 (“Intimate Letters”), Berg Lyric Suite, Schoenberg Verklärte Nacht.”
  • April 21, 2013 – St. Paul Chamber Orchestra; Steven Schick, conductor. Copand “Appalachian Spring” (complete chamber version) and works by Cage, Takemitsu, Delius and Knussen.
  • May 15, 2013 – Yo-Yo Ma, cello, with members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Program TBA.

Visiting Orchestras:

  • Nov. 7 – Philharmonia Orchestra of London; Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor. Now in his fifth season as principal conductor of the Philharmonia, the Finnish-born Salonen will lead Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in D major and Berlioz “Symphonie fantastique.”
  • April 14, 2013 – Staatskapelle Dresden; Christian Thielemann, conductor; Lisa Batiashvili, violin. Founded in 1548, the Staatskapelle Dresden is among the world’s oldest orchestras. Its concert under first-year principal conductor Christian Thielemann is all Brahms: “Academic Festival” Overture, Violin Concerto in D major, Symphony No. 4 in E minor.

Piano Series:

  • Nov. 4 – Andras Schiff. The Hungarian pianist’s program will be devoted to Book I of Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier.”
  • Jan. 20, 2013 – Louis Lortie. It’s mostly Wagner, with a digression into Mozart, and in all in transcriptions by Liszt from this Canadian pianist.
  •  Feb. 10, 2013 – Angela Hewitt. Celebrated for her Bach, the Canadian pianist offers two of the French Suites plus music of Debussy and Ravel.
  • March 3, 2013 – Paul Lewis. Here’s the final installment of the British pianist’s three-season traversal of Schubert at Orchestra Hall, with the last three sonatas.
  • April 7 – Pierre-Laurent Aimard. The French pianist devotes his recital to Debussy’s complete Preludes, Books 1 and 2.
  • April 28 – Evgeny Kissin. Beethoven’s Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111, is the Russian pianist’s centerpiece, along with music by Haydn, Schubert and Liszt.
  • May 5 – Jorge Federico Osorio. The Mexican pianist performs Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and works by Brahms, Albéniz and others.
  • May 19 – Marc-André Hamelin. In addition to sonatas by Berg and Rachmaninoff, the French pianist will focus on music by his countrymen Fauré, Debussy and Ravel.
  • June 2, 2013 – Alice Sara Ott. In her Symphony Center debut, the 23-year-old German-Japanese sensation will play Liszt’s “Paganini Etudes” and works by Mozart and Schubert.
Related Links:
Photo captions and credits: Home page and top: Cellist Alisa Weilerstein. Descending: Pianist Inon Barnatan. CD cover for Alisa Weilerstein’s new Decca recording of the Elgar Cello Concerto, to be released Oct. 30. Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter.  (Photo by Harald Hoffmann/Deutsche Grammophon) Pianist Andras Schiff (Photo by Sheila Rock) Pianist Paul Lewis (Photo courtesy Harmonia Mundi) Below: Pianist Alice Sara Ott. (Photo by Esther Haase/Deutsche Grammophon) Emerson String Quartet (Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco)

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