Alisa Weilerstein joins the Czech Philharmonic and conductor Tomáš Netopil in Basingstoke to perform Dmitri Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1. The orchestra will also perform the music of Antonín Dvořák, its founding father.
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Symphonic Variations, Op. 78
Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 107
Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 "From the New World"
“A young cellist whose emotionally resonant performances of both traditional and contemporary music have earned her international recognition, … Weilerstein is a consummate performer, combining technical precision with impassioned musicianship.” So stated the MacArthur Foundation when awarding Alisa Weilerstein a 2011 MacArthur “genius grant” Fellowship. An exclusive recording artist for Decca Classics since 2010, she is the first cellist to be signed by the prestigious label in more than 30 years.
For her first album on the Decca label, Weilerstein recorded the Elgar and Elliott Carter cello concertos with Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin. The disc was named “Recording of the Year 2013” by BBC Music. Her second Decca release, on which she plays Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with the Czech Philharmonic, topped the U.S. classical chart. Weilerstein released her fifth album on Decca in September 2016, playing Shostakovich’s two cello concertos with the Bavarian Radio Symphony under Pablo Heras-Casado, in performances recorded live the previous season.
Weilerstein has appeared with all the foremost orchestras of the United States and Europe, collaborating with conductors including Gustavo Dudamel, Christoph Eschenbach, Alan Gilbert, Manfred Honeck, Marek Janowski, Neeme Järvi, Paavo Järvi, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Yuri Temirkanov, and David Zinman. Her major career milestones include an emotionally tumultuous account of Elgar’s concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic and Daniel Barenboim in Oxford, England, for the orchestra’s 2010 European Concert, which was televised live and subsequently released on DVD by EuroArts. Other highlights of that time include her debut at the BBC Proms in 2010.
Committed to expanding the cello repertoire, Weilerstein is an ardent champion of new music. She gave the New York premiere of Matthias Pintscher’s Reflections on Narcissus, and has worked extensively with Osvaldo Golijov, who rewrote Azul for cello and orchestra (originally premiered by Yo-Yo Ma) for her New York premiere performance. At the 2008 Caramoor Festival, she gave the world premiere of Lera Auerbach’s 24 Preludes for Violoncello and Piano with the composer at the keyboard. Joseph Hallman, a 2014 Grammy Award nominee, has also written multiple works for Weilerstein.
Weilerstein has appeared at major music festivals throughout the world, including Aspen, Edinburgh, Jerusalem Chamber Music, La Jolla Summer Fest, Mostly Mozart, Salzburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Tanglewood, and Verbier. In addition to her appearances as a soloist and recitalist, Weilerstein performs regularly as a chamber musician. She has been part of a core group of musicians at the Spoleto Festival USA for the past eight years and also performs with her parents, Donald and Vivian Hornik Weilerstein, as the Weilerstein Trio.
The cellist is the winner of both Lincoln Center’s 2008 Martin E. Segal prize for exceptional achievement and the 2006 Leonard Bernstein Award. She received an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2000 and was selected for two prestigious young artists programs in the 2000/2001 season.
A graduate of the Young Artist Program at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where she studied with Richard Weiss, the cellist also holds a degree in history from Columbia University. In 2008, Weilerstein, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was nine, became a Celebrity Advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
“I am immensely honored to be part of an artistic team with the potential to follow up fully on the artistic legacy of Jiří Bělohlávek and to further refine the orchestra into the form of perfect musical joy. For me, working with this orchestra is at once a great obligation, a challenge, and a pleasure.“
Tomáš Netopil, who studied violin and conducting both in his native Czech Republic with Jiří Bělohlávek and under the guidance of Jorma Panula at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, made his debut with the Czech Philharmonic in 2007 in a programme of Haydn, Sibelius and Novák. He has subsequently returned to conduct the Orchestra on twelve occasions, most recently in its New Year’s Day concert in 2015. In October 2017, the Orchestra appointed him as Principal Guest Conductor from 2018/19 season together with Jakub Hrůša.
His broad repertoire reflects his Czech heritage with recent performances including Janáček’s Makropulos Case (Vlaamse Opera in Antwerp); The Cunning Little Vixen (Semperoper Dresden, Vienna Staatsoper); Kát’a Kabanová (Vienna Staatsoper); and Dvořák’s Rusalka (Vienna Staatsoper) sitting alongside Busoni’s Dr Faust (Dresden Semperoper); Mozart’s Così fan tutte (Vienna Staatsoper); and Halévy’s La Juive (Vlaamse Opera).
Tomáš Netopil was appointed Music Director of the Aalto Theatre and Philhmarmonie Essen in 2013. In addition to his opera commitments which have included productions of Verdi’s Macbeth, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and La Clemenza di Tito, Wagner’s Lohengrin and The Flying Dutchman, and Strauss’ Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier, Netopil is also a regular presence on the concert platform. Before moving to Essen, he was Music Director of the Prague National Theatre and Estates Theatre for four years.
In addition to his work in the opera house, Netopil has conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Gewandhaus Orchester Leipzig, the Dresdner Staatskapelle, Sinfonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, MDR Sinfonieorchester Leipzig, RSB Berlin, Konzerthausorchester Berlin, Frankfurter Museumsorchester, Staatsorchester Stuttgart, Wiener Symphoniker, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Tonhalle Orchester Zürich, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Orchestre de Paris, Rotterdams Philharmonisch Orkest, Orchestre National du Capitol Toulouse, Orchestre National de Montpellier, Orchestre National de Lille, Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala Milano, Orchestra dell´Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Roma, Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Orchestra Nazionale della RAI Torino, Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini Parma, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonie, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, NHK Symphony Orchestra and Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
In 1892 Dvořák accepted an invitation to the United States for three years and became the director of the National Conservatory in New York. After a short stay overseas, in the winter of 1893 he started working on his new Symphony No. 9 in E minor ‘From the New World’. This composition was conceived in order to prove Dvořák’s theory regarding the use of the characteristic elements of African-American and Native-American music for the emergence of the ‘American national school’, which did not exist at the time of Dvořák’s sojourn in the United States. Experts have debated for more than one hundred years about whether Dvořák used in his symphony specific tunes of Negro songs or not. Dvořák himself gave an ambiguous answer to this question. Once he said, “I’m just finishing a new Sinfonia in E minor. Well, everyone who has instincts must feel the influence of America.” At another time he made a seemingly contradictory statement: “It has been and always will be Czech music.” Another question is to what extent Dvořák could really get to know American music during such a short period of his stay in America, and how much he actually wished to create something for America, which in the beginning treated him so generously and which was certainly very fascinating for him. Structurally, the Ninth Symphony has a very precise, almost textbook form of individual movements. Subconsciously, however, Dvořák must have “quoted” at least one of the familiar tunes since the theme of the first movement is noticeably reminiscent of the Negro spiritual Swing Low Sweet Chariot. The second movement, Largo, might have been inspired by The Song of Hiawatha, while the third movement of the symphony has, according to Dvořák, “something of the Indian character”. In the final fourth movement Dvořák has combined all the themes of the symphony. This perfect management of form in connection with imaginative melodies, harmonies and instrumentation mastery form together a truly unique work of genius. Finally, let us quote from The New York Times in 1893: “We Americans should thank and honor the Bohemian master who has shown us how to build our national school of music.”
Shostakovich was indirectly inspired to compose Cello Concerto No. 1 by the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. When in 1952 he heard him perform Prokofiev’s Symphony-Concerto for Cello and Orchestra Op. 125, in his mind he was conceiving a composition of the same kind for him ever since. He wrote it in the summer of 1959 in just 40 days, and like Prokofiev used the classical form of concerto, allowing the soloist to show off all of his art. The result is one of the most important and most difficult works for cello in concertante literature.
The score is dedicated to Rostropovich, who performed it for the first time on 4 October 1959 with Yevgeny Mravinsky conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra. The concerto contains introspective and autobiographical elements, of which the most striking is the musical motif of DSCH (consisting of the notes D, E flat, C and B natural in German musical notation pronounced as “De-Es-Ce-Ha” = D-mitri Sch-ostakovich). With the exception of the second movement it appears throughout the whole composition and is transposed to G, F flat, C flat, B flat (i.e., it stands out from the frame of the main key). It is heard at the very beginning of the first movement in the cello part and is repeated with the orchestra playing it after in an almost grotesque way.
The second movement is the most extensive and the most cantabile of the whole composition; the third movement has the form of a solo cadenza, but as can be expected, a larger and more autonomous one. The final rondo is played continuously within the ABAC scheme and again employs the DSCH motif, first in fragments and eventually in the full form in the horn part. The concerto ends with coda, rich in effects.
Antonín Dvořák composed Symphonic Variations, Op. 78 for a charity concert to raise money for the construction of a new church in Prague’s district of Smíchov in 1877. The theme of his variations was the song Fiddler to a poem by Adolf Heyduk. The composition was premiered in the Žofín concert hall in Prague on 2 December 1877 by the Provisional Theater Orchestra conducted by Ludevít Procházka (as Op. 40). In total the 27 variations end in fugato, leading to a joyous polka in the spirit of the folklore character of the theme. Dvořák later revised the composition and presented it in the new form on 6 March 1887 at the Slavonic Concert with the National Theater Orchestra under his direction. On 16 May of the same year Symphonic Variations was performed at a concert in London by Hans Richter, who also conducted its Viennese premiere on 4 December with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
The Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick wrote: “Dvořák is not only a great talent, but he is a truly gifted and original composer who is as natural as possible, and even in his weaker compositions he has ideas of a genius. After Brahms, in my opinion, Dvořák is the most talented instrumental composer of the present time.” When the composition came out in print in 1888 in Berlin, the publisher Simrock changed the opus number to 78 to give the impression that this was a more recent work.
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