Cellist Alisa Weilerstein was at the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival last week when she received an unexpected phone call from the MacArthur Foundation telling her she was a recipient of their 2011 fellowship. The “Genius Award,” as it is called, is a no-strings-attached grant of $500,000, paid out over five years.
Weilerstein, 29, is a rising star in the classical music world. Though she plays compositions dating back to the 16th century, she also enjoys commissioning pieces by contemporary composers. In 2007 she worked closely with Osvaldo Golijov on a major revision of his “Azul,” a concerto inspired by a Pablo Neruda poem. Recognized for her precise and passionate playing, Weilerstein has appeared as a soloist with some of the most prestigious orchestras and collaborated with some of the greatest living conductors, including Daniel Barenboim.
Though music is central to her life, Weilerstein also pursued a bachelor’s degree in Russian History at Columbia University, which she received in 2004. She performs in over 100 concerts a year and has been an artist-in-residence at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Weilerstein’s recording of the Elgar Cello Concerto is forthcoming from Decca Classics.
Weilerstein spoke with The Arty Semite about getting the surprise phone call, working with other Jewish artists, and another reason why her parents are proud right now.
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