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Café Concert: Alisa Weilerstein

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When Alisa Weilerstein came to the WQXR Café, it was during the epic cold blast that gripped New York, sending residents scurrying indoors while impairing string instruments with wayward pitch. Yet after a thorough warm-up, the cellist launched into soulful renditions of solo works by Osvaldo Golijov and J.S. Bach and the icy temps may have receded into memory.

Weilerstein, who is a 2011 recipient of the MacArthur "Genius" grant and a busy touring artist, performed what she described as "one of the most beloved pieces for cello," the Gigue from Bach's Cello Suite No. 3:

Thoughts about the weather were further put aside when Weilerstein brought up her latest recording, an all-Dvorak affair that includes the Cello Concerto along with several miniatures (read more and get a free download here). She recorded the concerto last summer in Prague with the Czech Philharmonic. "There’s a kind of warmth and depth to their playing which I found very unique,” she said of the orchestra's sound.

Weilerstein spent a day at Dvorak’s 18th-century house on the outskirts of Prague where she performed beneath a portrait of Josefina Čermakova, the composer’s sister-in-law who died at any early age. The composer dedicated the third movement of his Cello Concerto to Čermakova, with whom he fell in love (it was not returned though and he eventually married her younger sister). Weilerstein then stayed for a photo shoot in the adjacent woods – that portrayed in his work From the Bohemian Forest.

The Dvorak Concerto has another significance for Weilerstein. In February 2009 she played the piece as part of an audition for Gustavo Dudamel. Ten months later, she was invited to play it with the conductor's Simon Bolivar Orchestra in Caracas. The performance was a hit, and led to a spontaneous invitation to join the orchestra on a Venezuelan tour. There she encountered Rafael Payare, a young conductor who also played French horn in the ensemble.

A relationship emerged and, last August, Weilerstein and Payare got married at the Caramoor Center in Katonah, NY. Their wedding, which was featured in the New York Times, came just two months after her trip to Prague. The couple appear to be developing a professional relationship too: this week, Weilerstein and Payare are performing the Brahms Double Concerto together in Hamburg, Germany (Weilerstein is scheduled to perform the Dvorak Concerto in December with the New York Philharmonic).

Below, Weilerstein performs Osvaldo Golijov’s Omaramor, a fantasia inspired by the legendary tango singer Carlos Gardel. “The cello is supposed to be walking through the streets of Buenos Aires," Weilerstein explained in lightly accented English. "Sometimes it’s melancholic, sometimes it’s very rough, sometimes very reflective. It’s a piece that I’ve played a lot over the past eight years and one that’s really important to be in the core cello repertoire."

Video: Amy Pearl; Audio: George Wellington; Text & Production: Brian Wise; Interview: Jeff Spurgeon