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Cello Krispies

img  Tobias

Music can hide in the strangest of places. For example: What connection is there between a box of rice krispies and a cello? Between funny voices and practising your instrument? Between Eastern European History and Classical studies? All of these may seem poles apart, but there’s a missing link binding them firmly together. And this link is called Alisa Weilerstein.

Before we explore this link in more depth, let’s turn to the one moment in every musician’s life, when everything changes. Of course, parents always knew their child was going to end up being a superstar – after all, baby Beyonce had always danced to the music playing on the stereo, little Joe had strummed the strings of his guitar from the age of three and angel-faced Mariah was already singing her lungs out while still in her diapers. All of them were destined to be the performers of the future, to end up in front of millions and taped to the walls of teenage-rooms, right? Hardly. In truth, children just naturally love to play, sing and perform – at least most of them do. It is only through bad education (music teachers of the world, do you know how much harm you can do?) and social pressure that something so natural suddenly becomes embarrassing. It is through a very normal and healthy selection process that some go on to storm the stages and others opt for a career as a salesman or a dentist (add another profession at your leisure). And there is almost always that one special moment, when the pure enjoyment of working your instrument turns into something more serious. Of course, this moment turned up in Alisa’s life as well. Or maybe, there were even several of them.

But first, let’s go back to that box of rice crispies. Alisa was the cild of two acomplished musicians, Donald and Vivian. During one of their tours (Alisa was then only 2,5 years old), she got ill on the night of one her parents’ concerts. Her grandmother, who took care of her, presented her with a little surprise to cheer her up: “A string quartet of instruments that she had made herself--out of cardboard cereal boxes. The cello, made out of a Rice Krispies box with an old toothbrush for the endpin, was the instrument I immediately fell in love with. I ignored the others completely.” This cereal box was put to unusual use: “I have an early memory of trying desperately to make some sound come out of the little cello while my parents were rehearsing together.” Eventually, she did get a real cello at the age of four.

Until she was eleven, she would play with her mother or on her own in her room. She now says of that time, that the cello was her “toy”. Parental pressure? A Wunderkind? Forget it. It is obvious, why magazines insist on the legend of the prodigal daughter, but it is equally logical that every sensible artist will deny it. After all, he or she knows that it was the love for their instrument, like the love for a teddy bear or a book, that got them to be good at their craft. It doesn’t start with “fate”, “fortune” or “fame”, it all starts with fun. When she was still little, her father would improvise funny voices in an imaginary radio show to encourage her to keep practising. Possibly this could have gone on forever and maybe Alisa could have turned into a vet or a professor of literature (insert another profession at your leisure).Until she met Richard Aaron, that is.

If you have a look at interviews with Classical musicians, you will find that they take a very different angle from those with Pop or Rock acts or even experimental composers. In fact, many of them are hardly of any interest to most regular readers. The simple reason for this is that certain aspects of a Classical musicians’ trade are so much more important than in any other genre: Technique, practising, interpretation and the analysis accompanying it. In an interview with, Alisa talks for a considerable time about certain methods of practising, even adding an example of sheet music. Why does she bother to tell us? Because, as a professional musician, it is never enough to just play and have fun. Actually, most Pop and Rock instrumentalists take pride in their technique as well. So, to cut the story short, Richard Aaron was the messenger who delivered this note to Alisa. His statement was clear: “He told my parents (and eventually he told me) that I was too talented to just run wild - I had to have a structured practice routine. He basically told my parents to listen to me with the same standard that they would use for a talented conservatory student.” What followed was a schedule, a routine and many, many concerts.

Especially the latter is what makes Alisa’s career stand our from that of many others. Even though she recorded an album with EMI as early as 2000, she has not hit the studio for a solo disc ever since, concentrating on her live play and doing something quite unusual: NOT studying music, but choosing history instead, especially that of Eastern Europe and Russia. For a few years, her life is filled to the brim with activities: Examns, debates in the class room, music courses over at Juilliard, concerts and adding a new generation to the ensemble of her parents: The Weilerstein Duo, a renowned insitution , turns into the Weilerstein Trio. It is a good thing, then, that she enjoys both her life on the road (or in the air) and that she prefers a well-filled agenda over a lazy weekend. The only negative side to it all is the cliche (and sad truth) of a travelling musician: “When you come back after a concerto performance into a hotel room, and there’s no one there to celebrate with. Usually I wind up jumping up and down on my bed and being totally crazy, or watching bad movies until 3 a.m. You find ways to cope.”

While her musical relationship with her parents became closer through her membership in the trio, a major shift occured between the age of 16 and 18: She started practising independently and developed her own approach to this. After her father and her teachers had helped her to rid her of some self-inflicted flaws in her playing (the result of her “running wild”-phase), she was now ready to advance on her own. And, of course, finishing her studies was the next big step: Instead of her life being laid out for her, it was decision time. And especially, it was time to organise herself more.

The future is still open, but it looks like a few determinants have already become clear. Alisa will remain a fervent live performer, her concert schedule remains as busy as ever and the frequency of her appearances has even gone up. In this, she resembles violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, who we featured just two days ago. On the other hand, she is carefully reaching out into recording as well. The debut disc of the Weilerstein trio has just been released on the Koch label and features the Dvorak-trios, some of the most beautiful music written for this constellation. Which makes the road clear for a new solo CD, which we know nothing about, but do hope for. After listening to her performance of Kodaly’s solo sonata on the excellent “Interactive Section” on her homepage, you’ll do the same.

Which brings us to he most important connection music has – besides rice krispies, funny voices and Eastern European history: The one with listeners.

Homepage: Alisa Weilerstein
Homepage: The Weilerstein Trio
Source: Alisa Weilerstein at
Source: Alisa Weilerstein at Columbia College

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