From: The New York Times (Steve Smith)|
Concerto Retinkered (for Youthful Soloist)
The Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov smiled broadly as he burst into a spacious studio in the Jazz at Lincoln Center complex one night last week. Greeting everyone warmly, he scanned the room for one particular person: Alisa Weilerstein, the soloist of his cello concerto, "Azul." It was more than mere courtesy. "I still have some notes to give her," he confided with an impish grin.
Mr. Golijov was not referring to pointers, but to actual pages of the score. Since its first performance, by Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood last summer, Mr. Golijov has thoroughly revised "Azul." A little more than a week before its New York premiere, tonight at the Mostly Mozart Festival, he was still tweaking details.
Ms. Weilerstein soon arrived, and the rehearsal got under way. As Michael Ward-Bergeman squeezed out a low, steady ostinato on his hyper-accordion, a conventional acoustic instrument outfitted with electronic effects, Mr. Golijov sang rhythms to the percussionists Jamey Haddad and Cyro Baptista. Louis Langrée, the music director of the Mostly Mozart Festival, filled in orchestral parts on piano.
Petite and brimming with self-assurance, Ms. Weilerstein provided a center of calm amid the din. Over percussive rumbles, shakes and splatters, she played a long, radiant melody, its melancholy reflected in her intense expressions. Mr. Golijov beamed with satisfaction.
"This is very consistent with what he's done in the past," Ms. Weilerstein said in an interview earlier that evening. She had become intimately acquainted with Mr. Golijov's penchant for tinkering during collaborative sessions in Boston, where they both live, and at the Banff Summer Arts Festival in Canada earlier this month. "These pieces are living things, so that makes it very exciting," she added. "I'm getting changes every single day."
Although "Azul" is billed as her Mostly Mozart debut, Ms. Weilerstein, the daughter of the violinist Donald Weilerstein and the pianist Vivian Hornik Weilerstein, first appeared at the festival two seasons ago, playing a Bach solo suite in a preconcert recital.
Now a seasoned performer at 25, Ms. Weilerstein made her subscription-series debut with the New York Philharmonic in January, and played with that orchestra again in Vail, Colo., on Friday. Her season has also included appearances with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Baltimore Symphony, and tours with the violinists Maxim Vengerov and Gil Shaham.
Ms. Weilerstein's first encounter with Mr. Golijov came in 2005, initiated by mutual friends: the clarinetist Todd Palmer and members of the St. Lawrence String Quartet. She visited Mr. Golijov at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., where he is on the faculty, to get the scores for two chamber pieces, "Mariel" and "Omaramor."
"I was working on my Web site at the same time," Ms. Weilerstein said. (The address is alisaweilerstein.com.) "He very generously suggested that I could record the video of the Kodaly solo sonata, which is on my Web site now, at Holy Cross." (She will play that work tonight, after the gala program, at the Kaplan Penthouse.) "He set the whole thing up without really knowing me," she added. Ms. Weilerstein later sent Mr. Golijov a recording of her performance of "Omaramor" at the Spoleto Festival U.S.A. in 2006.
"He wrote to me and said he loved it," she said. "A couple of months later, I found out I was doing the concerto."
The choice of Ms. Weilerstein was initially a matter of practicality: Mr. Ma, who played "Azul" at Tanglewood and Ravinia, was unavailable for Mostly Mozart, and Mr. Golijov put great stock in the opinion of the St. Lawrence players and Mr. Palmer, whom he called "my soul mates in music."
In an interview by cellphone from a Boston-bound train a few days after the rehearsal, Mr. Golijov explained: "I was unhappy with some of the music in the concerto. I thought, 'She's local - we could get together every afternoon for a month and try different things.' "
Mr. Golijov has proved unusually willing to allow his major pieces to gestate in public. At its inception, "Azul" was a 26-minute expansion of themes from his "Tenebrae," a 2002 work that had been inspired by the Baroque composer François Couperin's devotional "Leçons de Ténèbres."
"Originally the piece was very, very still all the time," Mr. Golijov said. Mr. Ma, he had reasoned, did not require an extravaganza to demonstrate his mettle. The tone of "Azul," he added, stemmed partly from his experience of listening to concerts at Tanglewood while lying on the grass, staring at the sky.
For the enclosed space of Avery Fisher Hall, Mr. Golijov reconceived "Azul" to reflect Ms. Weilerstein's youthful vigor and passion. He replaced the first 10 minutes and extended the cadenza. Mr. Golijov also found new inspiration in Pablo Neruda's poem "The Heights of Macchu Picchu," Ms. Weilerstein said.
"In the poem there's this person that's sort of floating in the air, then he reaches into the very inside of the earth and comes out again," she said. "It's that sort of emotional journey that we're trying to get through the piece. It will end similarly to the old piece, I think, but you have to earn that ending."
Ms. Weilerstein said Mr. Golijov conveyed his ideas to her as if he were a director coaching an actor. "He'd say, 'You play so beautifully, but you sound like you're sure of where you're going, and I don't want you to sound sure,' " she said. "To have somebody talk like that was so refreshing."
The admiration was mutual. At 46, Mr. Golijov is hardly an elder statesman. Still, Ms. Weilerstein's enthusiasm proved infectious. "It's an incredible pleasure when you're the young one," he said. "But for the first time I experienced, 'Well, now I am the old one,' and it's so good to be energized by her."