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TRADITIONAL KINDA GAL

for The Brooklyn Paper
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"It’s quite a lot of fun to play - it gives me a rush when playing or hearing it," says Alisa Weilerstein - a virtuoso 20-year-old cellist whose playing has already inspired praise for its technical prowess and its unimpeachable passion - about the First Cello Concerto of Camille Saint-Saens, the centerpiece of the New York Philharmonic’s July 31 concert in Prospect Park.

Since the summer of ’65, the Philharmonic has visited its audiences in all five boroughs, Long Island, Westchester County and New Jersey, playing free parks concerts for over 14 million people, many of whom don’t get the chance to hear the orchestra in its usual home at Lincoln Center.

This year is no different, as the 38th summer season of the Philharmonic’s "Concerts in the Parks" finds conductor Asher Fisch leading his first New York Philharmonic concert in the July 31 Prospect Park program. In the grand tradition of summer classical music, the program is an entertaining mixture of the familiar and the pleasant - no dissonant Bartok, no minimalist Philip Glass allowed.

Opening the performance is the overture from Rossini’s opera, "William Tell." While that gargantuan grand opera is rarely heard in its entirety, its grandiose overture may be the most well-known piece of music of the late-20th century (even though Rossini wrote it in the early 19th century). Its triumphant trumpet fanfare and galloping march are better known as the "Lone Ranger" theme, but the entire overture is a complex creation, deftly showcasing themes from the long opera.

Closing the concert is the "Symphonic Dances" of Sergei Rachmaninoff. Known for his glitteringly melodic music, Rachmaninoff gets less acknowledgement for his truly unique style; this work - the last he would compose - shows off all of his influences and techniques in a wonderful, toe-tapping coda to the evening.

In between comes Saint-Saens’ cello concerto. Cellist Weilerstein, who is also making her New York Philharmonic debut at this performance as soloist, waxes rhapsodic about this major piece of cello music literature.

"It’s very beautiful, and it’s perfectly crafted," she told GO Brooklyn in a telephone interview from a hotel room in Houston, Texas. "All the movements flow into each other, so it’s 23 minutes of straight playing for me."

That’s no problem for Weilerstein, who made her Carnegie Hall debut at age 15, and often plays chamber music with her parents Donald and Vivian as the Weilerstein Trio.

Not much lately, though. "We’ve cut back on our performances [as a trio], because of my studies at Columbia University," the cellist said. "I’m doing more solo concerts right now."

About that hectic schedule, she said, "I’m a history major at Columbia in 20th century European history and I take cello classes at Juilliard, and I do 50 concerts a year as well." Weilerstein notes that this jam-packed slate of activity is nothing she would ever have dreamed of before she started.

"I’m often e-mailing my papers from faraway places to my professors," she said. "There are times when I curse myself for having thought of doing this!" Then she laughs and reconsiders the alternative. "I think it’s very important to have a life away from the music."

Even so, the 20-year-old has no doubts about her career path. "I was always serious about what I wanted to do," she said firmly, not surprising from someone who made her public concert debut at the age of 4, only six months after she began playing the cello.

Although Weilerstein’s first recording - as part of the "Debut" series on the EMI Classics label - was released to good notices a few years ago ("It’s a standard recital disc," she noted, "but I also did a piece by [Czech composer Leos] Janacek, since I’m a fanatic for his music"), she’s unsure when she’ll be venturing into those waters again.

"I’d like to record again soon, but in a way, I’m glad that I’m not," she said. "If you put a recording out there, it’s permanent. I’m perfectly willing to give it time, to think about what I want to do and what I want to say. I was 16 when I did my first recording, and my playing has changed since then."

On July 31, that ever-evolving playing will be on display - without a price tag - in Prospect Park.

 

 

The New York Philharmonic performs Rossini, Saint-Saens and Rachmaninoff in the Long Meadow Ballfields in Prospect Park at 8 pm on July 31. Enter the park at 9th Street and Prospect Park West. For more information, call (212) 875-5709 or visit www.newyorkphilharmonic.org. This performance is free.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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