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REVIEW: Alisa Weilerstein’s Solo Cello Recital Captivates La Jolla Audience

San Diego Story

Kenneth Herman

March 16, 2023


The ethos of Alisa Weilerstein’s Fragments I program at The Conrad hovered between a solo recital and a seance. Sitting in the darkened hall with no program to read or shuffle through, the audience could focus only on Weilerstein seated alone with her cello on the Baker-Baum Concert Hall stage. Surrounded by her smart mini-stonehenge set, her lighting changed dramatically with each short movement as she seamlessly transitioned between her 18 selections. Applause was reserved for the completion of the program.

Movements from J. S. Bach’s Suite for Cello Solo No. 1, BWV 1007, were dispersed throughout the program and were relatively easy to identify, but the majority of Weilerstein’s pieces were individual movements commissioned by the performer for her Fragments series. Programs were distributed as audience members exited the Concert hall.

Weilerstein opened with an untitled work by Joan Tower, the most well-known of her cadre of contemporary composers. Tower’s offering started with a dark cantabile theme that slowly morphed into rich, double stop harmonies that quickly blossomed into wild arpeggios that flew into the cello’s highest range. Three movements from Venezuelan composer Reinaldo Maya’s Guayoyo Sketchesbrought a range of extended techniques that expanded the cello’s sonic possibilities, and his powerful “Cerrero de medianoche” brimmed with bold dissonance. In recent seasons, San Diego Symphony Music Director Rafael Payare has introduced Moya’s music to San Diego, including the composer’s Piano Concerto in June of 2022.

“Ebullient Missteps” by Allison Loggins-Hull projected a jaunty, devil-may-care attitude, while her more assertive but still solidly tonal “Wild Confidence” opened with bright fanfares and unfurled furious figurations in the instrument’s highest range. Loggins-Hull currently serves as the Lewis Composer Fellow with the Cleveland Symphony. Chinese-American composer Chen Yi’s “Ancient Song” encompassed both low-pitched growls as well as anxious, high cries carried on vigorous, ascending themes. The intensity of rapid flourishes propelled her “Spin Dance.”

If the program’s commissioned works revealed the breadth of Weilerstein’s technical command, the various movements from Bach’s Cello Suite reminded the audience of her sumptuous yet deftly focused sonority, as well as phrasing that revealed the passion that suffuses these nonpareil stylized dance movements.

This recital was co-sponsored by the San Diego Symphony and the La Jolla Music Society on Tuesday, March 14, 2023, in the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center in downtown La Jolla.