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Trio’s a charm for Weilerstein

Renowned cellist, who regularly performs with Weilerstein Trio, returns for third Symphony concert

Alisa Weilerstein wasn’t born playing the cello. But it didn’t take long for her to start; she was 4 when she began lessons.

Still, she did not play Antonin Dvorak’s Cello Concerto right away, despite the fact she wanted to.

Weilerstein will perform Dvorak’s Concerto as soloist with the Spokane Symphony in two concerts on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox.

Music director Eckart Preu will conduct a program that also includes Igor Markevich’s music for the ballet “Icare” and the Prelude to Franz Schrecker’s opera “Die Gezeichneten (The Branded).”

This weekend’s performances mark the third time Weilerstein has appeared as a soloist with the orchestra.

She was born into a family of music professionals. Her father, Donald Weilerstein, was the founding first violinist of the Cleveland String Quartet, and her mother, Vivian Hornik Weilerstein, was a concert pianist.

Today the three perform together as the Weilerstein Trio, the trio-in-residence at Boston’s New England Conservatory.

“I probably heard recordings of the Dvorak Concerto from the time I was 2,” Weilerstein said in a telephone interview last week. “I may have even heard it in the womb.

“It was certain the first piece I desperately wanted to play when I started lessons when I was 4. I would play the opening phrase, and then came those chords my hands were too small to reach.”

Weilerstein, who will celebrate her 27th birthday later this month, began studying with a Suzuki-method teacher in Rochester, N.Y., where she was born. She continued lessons with teachers from the Cleveland Institute when her family moved there.

“I have had many teachers,” she says. “But Richard Weiss, the principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra, is the one who formed by playing most and helped get my career going.”

Weilerstein made her debut with the Cleveland Orchestra at 13, and has had an increasingly busy career ever since.

“I haven’t really counted the number of concerts I’m playing this year,” she says. “It’s maybe 100 or even more.”

She not only plays as an orchestral soloist, but as a recitalist and in chamber music. The Weilerstein Trio recently released a recording of trios by Dvorak on the E1 Music label (formerly Koch Records).

“Playing with your parents creates an interesting dynamic,” Weilerstein says. “We have a bond that can’t exist in other ensemble situations.

“There are fundamental ways we connect at a very deep level. But at the same time, we’re family, so there is no sugar-coating anything when we’re rehearsing together.”

When Weilerstein was 9, she was diagnosed with Type 1 juvenile diabetes.

“When I started a career, I kept very quiet about that,” she says. “I wanted to prove that I could keep just as busy a concert schedule as anyone else.

“But now that I am in a position to reach a lot of people, I want to tell families of children with diabetes they can live an active, healthy life and that diabetes does not have to get in the way of what you want to do.”

She was named a Celebrity Advocate by the Foundation for Juvenile Diabetes Research in 2008.

In addition performing the standard works of the cello repertoire, Weilerstein has worked with several living composers such as Osvaldo Golijov and Lera Auerbach. She gave the New York premiere of Golijov’s “Azul.”

“Osvaldo had written this for Yo-Yo Ma, who had played it at Tanglewood,” Weilerstein says. “But when it came to the New York premiere he wanted to revise it. So we worked together.

“I would ask questions about passages, or play things or improvise, and he would get ideas to change the piece. It turned out a very different piece than it had been at Tanglewood.”

What would she ask Dvorak about his concerto if he were alive today?

“I would probably just worship him at his feet,” Weilerstein says. “But I might ask him how he came up with such a perfect concerto with such a huge emotional range from pathos to ectasy and so many beautiful sound colors. Maybe he wanted to be a cellist.”

Conductor Preu will discuss the works on this weekend’s program one hour before performance time as a part of the orchestra’s Gladys Brooks Pre-Concert Talks series.

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