It’s a rare event to hear an encore at a Chicago Symphony Orchestra performance. But when Alisa Weilerstein played Bourrée I & II, parts of the Fifth Movement of Bach Cello Suite No. 3, she already had commanded total attention. But could we hear more, this is what Weilerstein playing the final movement of the Bach Suite would sound like--
“Command” is definitely a word that describes her performance. From the moment the door opened and she made her entrance in a stunning satin dress with a billowing train, eyes and ears perked to attention. She performed Prokofiev’s “Symphony-Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 125”, a work that is not quite concerto nor symphony but something in between. It showcases a muscular cello virtuoso performance with little rest for the cellist from beginning to end.
From her website we learn that Weilerstein, named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow in 2011, first played the cello at just two and a half, “when her grandmother assembled a makeshift set of instruments from cereal boxes to entertain her while she was ill with chicken pox. Although immediately drawn to the Rice Krispies box cello, Weilerstein soon grew frustrated that it didn’t produce any sound. After persuading her parents to buy a real cello at the age of four, she developed a natural affinity for the instrument and gave her first public performance six months later.”
Her musical credits and schedule of upcoming performances is quite long, but yet she has found time to also be a Celebrity Advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Under the baton of visiting Dutch-born conductor Jaap van Zweden the orchestra then played Britten’s “Suite on English Folk Tunes: A time there was…, Op. 90” followed by Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 9 in E-flat Major, Op. 70.”
As part of the “Truth to Power” series, which features works by these three composers in many concerts, the ostensible program theme was of music made in the difficult conditions of the 1930’s and 40’s. Hearing these three pieces performed in juxtaposition was also akin to a treatise on how classical music can paint moods. The evening was nothing less than a mood marathon, given the enormously wide range of emotions covered by each piece alone and then the three en toto.
Britten’s Suite was composed of five movements, each sketch-like, capturing the essence of an English folk tune. We went from timpani defining sounds to soft violins, and much in between.
Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 9 in E-flat Major, Op. 70” moves from dark strings to piccolo light and back again with brass and woodwinds too and repeatedly.
The bassoon solo towards the end was particularly memorable, as we rarely get to hear the bassoonists carry the show.
Kudos goes to whomever put these three pieces together in one program. We were not just moved, but moved again and again. This is the forte of classical music, and it takes the flawless performance of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to remind you of the genre’s infinite range.
This season’s CSO concerts in Orchestra Hall, 220 South Michigan only continue through June 21. Tickets for next season are already on sale. You can either call the box office at 312 294 3000 or visit the Chicago Symphony Orchestra website for tickets and information.