She didn’t believe the garbled message of good news she was hearing on her cell phone while in rehearsal at the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival. She thought it was a prank. And when the caller followed up with emails, she thought it was spam. When finally she realized it was all for real, she went into a state of shock and screamed her heart out. A $500k “Genius Grant” – no strings attached! Music to anyone’s ears, but being totally unexpected, it soared beyond her wildest dreams.The young American cellist, Alisa Weilerstein, first came to international attention in 2000 when at 18 she won an Avery Fisher Career Grant and released her EMI Classics Debut CD to critical acclaim. Through her superb musicianship, she has since earned wide international recognition, performing not only with chamber music ensembles but as a soloist with some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras and conductors, including the Berlin Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Orchestre National de France, Boston Symphony, and New York Philharmonic.
Watch a video of Alisa introducing herself and her art.
At 29, ALISA WEILERSTEIN is one of the youngest MacArthur Foundation Fellows in Music. She is one of 22 recipients in 2011 of the coveted awards given annually since 1981 to a lucky group of 20 to 40 people in recognition NOT of past achievement but as a totally unfettered investment in an individual’s ‘originality, creativity, self-direction, and capacity to contribute importantly to society” –in other words, in one’s genius, thus the grant’s nickname “Genius Award.” One does not apply for the grant of $500,000 which is paid in quarterly installments over five years. Instead, individuals who who show exceptional merit and promise of continued creative work are nominated anonymously to a small selection committee of about a dozen, also anonymous, people by a group of nominators. There are no age limits or job descriptions, the only requirement is that the nominee be a US citizen. Thus, the recipients to date are as diverse as the human race whose creative works encompass all fields of human endeavor, with ages ranging from 18 to 82 at the time of the award. The “Genius” program is one of four that the MacArthur Foundation supports “to foster the development of knowledge, nurture individual creativity, strengthen institutions, help improve public policy, and provide information to the public, primarily through support for public interest media” as vehicles for its committment “to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world”.
Today Alisa, the once child prodigy who started playing the cello at age four and debuted at age thirteen with the Cleveland Orchestra, plays more than 100 concerts a year on four continents, and continually expands her repertoire through collaborations with leading contemporary composers. Music is very much in her DNA: she often performs chamber music as the Weilerstein Trio with her parents, violinist Donald Weilerstein (the first violinist of the Cleveland Quartet and much sought-after violin teacher) and pianist Vivian Hornik Weilerstein. The trio is currently based at the New England Conservatory in Boston where Alisa’s parents teach. Her brother is the violinist and conductor, Joshua Weilerstein (born in 1987).
Unlike most accomplished professional musicians who graduate from music conservatories, Alisa Weilerstein received a B.A. (2004) in Russian History from Columbia University. Her recording of Elgar’s Cello Concerto will be released on the Decca Classics label.
- © Gloria Cajipe / FanFaire
Media courtesy of Macarthur Foundation