“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.
Petr Altrichter is one of the most distinguished Czech conductors, and he has earned an illustrious reputation for the dynamism and depth of his interpretations of symphonic music.
He was raised in a musical family, and he played musical instruments from a young age. Having graduated from the conservatory in Ostrava as a French horn player and conductor, he continued his studies at the JanáčekAcademy of the Performing Arts in Brno in the fields of orchestral conducting under the guidance of Otakar Trhlík and František Jílek and choral conducting with the teachers Josef Veselka and Lubomír Mátl. After his studies in Brno, he worked as a choirmaster and conductor with the Brno Academic Choir, and he played a part in the earning of many prizes at foreign choral competitions and festivals (Middlesbrough, Debrecen…).
Altrichter attracted international attention in 1976, when he earned the title of laureate and a special prize from the jury at the renowned conducting competition in Besancon, France. On the basis of that prize, he became Václav Neumann’s assistant conductor with the Czech Philharmonic, and he started his own artistic career. Not long after that, he began to receive invitations to conduct orchestras abroad.
After a period of activity with the Brno Philharmonic, in 1988 he became a conductor of the Prague Symphony Orchestra, and in 1990 he became its principal conductor. With that orchestra, he made frequent foreign tours to Japan, the USA, Switzerland, Germany, France, and other countries. At the same time, he was engaged in long-term collaboration with the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra in Pardubice, with which he often gave performances abroad introducing many gifted young soloists (such as Isabelle van Keulen and Radek Baborák) who are now firmly established on concert stages around the world.
From 1993, he was the music director of the Southwest German Philharmonic Orchestra of Constance, with which he gave concerts regularly at the Tonhalle in Zurich and at the KKL in Lucerne, and he also toured Switzerland and Italy.
Petr Altrichter made his debut in the United Kingdom with the Prague Symphony Orchestra at the Edinburgh Festival in 1993, and his London debut with the English Chamber Orchestra followed soon thereafter. In 1997 he was appointed as the principal conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic after having guest conducted the orchestra with great success during the previous season. He also made an appearance with that orchestra in 2000 at the BBC Proms at London’s Royal Albert Hall, and he made a number of highly acclaimed recordings for the orchestra’s own label – RLPO Live.
In 2001 Altrichter was invited to take the helm of the Brno Philharmonic, and he remained there for seven years, returning to the orchestra with which he had been associated since his student days, and he still continues to guest conduct there regularly.
He is also a regular guest of the Czech Philharmonic, with which he has maintained a steady artistic relationship since his beginnings there as an assistant, and of the Prague Symphony Orchestra, the Brno Philharmonic, and the Slovak Philharmonic, with which he recorded a warmly received award-winning CD with repertoire by Antonín Dvořák.
In 2015 he toured Germany with the Czech Philharmonic, and in late 2015 and early 2016, he toured China with the same orchestra. In the spring of 2017 he toured Japan with the Prague Symphony Orchestra, with which Altrichter is planning a tour of Germany next year. His 2018 calendar includes a tour of the United Kingdom with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra.
He has guest conducted major orchestras abroad, including Japan’s NHK Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. In the United Kingdom he has collaborated with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Among the orchestras he has guest conducted are the Bruckner Orchestra in Linz, the Warsaw Philharmonic, the Krakow Philharmonic, the Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra in Baden-Baden, the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra in Riga, the Gran Canaria Philharmonic Orchestra, the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra, the Netherlands Philharmonic, the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Danish Orchestra in Copenhagen, and the Odense Symphony Orchestra.
The festivals at which he is a frequent guest include Prague Spring, Janáček May in Ostrava, Smetana’s Litomyšl, Moravian Autumn in Brno, and the Bratislava Music Festival.
He has made guest appearances at major festivals in Salzburg, Edinburgh, Avignon, Athens, Cheltenham, Paris, Madrid, Chicago, Zurich, Lucerne, Vienne, Seville, Palermo, and elsewhere.
The bulk of Petr Altrichter’s repertoire consists of Czech music – Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák, Leoš Janáček, and Bohuslav Martinů, Russian music – especially Dmitri Shostakovich, and the works of Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner. Important soloists and performers from around the world (Garrick Ohlsson, John Lill, Tabea Zimmermann…) value his flexibility in leading orchestral accompaniments, and they seek out collaboration with him.
The year 1896 was important for the history of Czech music for two reasons: on 4 January, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra was founded, and on 19 March, Antonín Dvořák conducted the premiere of his Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 during his ninth and final concert tour in England. Although Dvořák was very happy about this composition, even writing about the “pure joy” which this work brought to him, in his modesty he could not know or guess that it would become one of his most frequently performed pieces, and for many people the best cello concerto ever, sometimes called the “king”. The paradox is that Dvořák had never been particularly drawn to the concertante form and did not recognise the cello as a solo instrument: he actually complained that it “whinges up above, and grumbles down below”. Nevertheless, by serendipitous circumstances, in the autumn of 1894 he decided to compose a concerto for cello. His first attempt at a solo concerto for this instrument was made almost thirty years ago, but Dvořák held this early concerto in such low regard that he did not mind the loss of its autograph (found after the composer’s death) and never included it in any list of his works.
The first and the most important impulse for Dvořák to choose this genre was a cello concerto by the American composer and cellist Victor Herbert. At that time, Dvořák was the director of the National Conservatory in New York; Herbert taught the cello there and was also the principle cellist with the New York Philharmonic Society. Dvořák was so excited by Herbert’s work that he studied its score in great detail and several months later began to compose his own cello concerto. Perhaps in line with the deeply intimate Biblical Songs created in the spring of 1894, Dvořák continued on this personal level, revealing in his new work his experiences at that particular time in his life: being homesick and missing his children (except for his son Otakar who was with him in the U.S., his other five children remained in Bohemia), longing after his summer home in Vysoká, where he could work undisturbed, and reminiscing about gravely ill Josefina Kounitzová, his sister-in-law and friend, whom Dvořák had loved in the past. The combination of Dvořák’s creative élan and inner melancholy gave rise to his innermost composition, dominated by a firm compositional order, which is not without hope. Josefina is memorialized in the concerto by the melody of Dvořák’s song Leave Me Alone from the cycle Four Songs, Op. 82, of which Josefina was particularly fond.
The concerto is in three movement. It opens with a grandiose orchestral introduction, expanding from two main themes. While the first is characterized by bigger melodic intervals, the second theme consists of a sweet, gentle melody. A seemingly spontaneous idea was born after a long and laborious struggle, after which Dvořák found its correct form. He himself admitted that the lyrical theme of the introductory Allegro made him tremble. In the second movement he went even further, creating one of his most impressive lyrical expressions. This is where the quotation from the song Leave Me Alone is heard. Then comes the rondo, which represents the symbol of hope, of resurrection after a dark night on the cross, an image of the pain transformed. Dvořák wrote it a few weeks before he left New York for good; this might be why it is elated by an eager expectation, which, however, was spoiled upon Dvořák’s return to Bohemia by the news of Josefina’s premature death. In response to this sad fact, Dvořák radically changed the conclusion of the whole concert, inserting a new section of sixty bars before the original short coda, after which the solo violin again quotes Josefina’s favourite song.
The world premiere of the concerto was held in London’s Queen’s Hall on 19 March 1896 and was conducted by the composer himself. Originally, the composition was to be premiered by Dvořák’s close friend and mentor of the cello part, Hanuš Wihan, to whom the work was dedicated, but in the end its performance was entrusted to a young English cellist, Leo Stern. It is rumoured that the change of cellists was caused by Wihan’s rather insensitive insistence to play his own virtuoso cadenza, which Dvořák resolutely rejected, but the real reason was probably bad timing. Stern went to see Dvořák in Bohemia and worked hard with him, practising almost seven hours a day in order to master it because the composition was extremely difficult for him in terms of intonation. Stern also presented the work at the Prague premiere on 11 April 1896 and later in Leipzig, Chicago and New York.
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