New York Philharmonic: Conversation - Maazel the Mentor

Classic Arts Features   New York Philharmonic: Conversation - Maazel the Mentor
American cellist Alisa Weilerstein and German violinist Julia Fischer reunite with Lorin Maazel and the Philharmonic in a series of individual solo turns this month, beginning on Nov. 20. The two young soloists speak about their upcoming performances and reflect on collaborating with Maazel.


Old acquaintance will be renewed by young virtuosos this month when the 26-year-old American cellist Alisa Weilerstein and the 25-year-old German violinist Julia Fischer reunite with Lorin Maazel and the New York Philharmonic in the conductor's final season as the Orchestra's Music Director.

Ms. Weilerstein will perform Krzysztof Penderecki's Cello Concerto No. 2 from November 20 to 22.

Ms. Fischer will be heard in the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 5 on November 25, 28, and 29.


In the following conversation with the journalist Lawrence Van Gelder, Ms. Weilerstein and Ms. Fischer discuss their music and their memories of Mr. Maazel.

Lawrence Van Gelder: Ms. Weilerstein, what is the appeal of the Penderecki piece to you?

Alisa Weilerstein: In some of the music from the 1960s, Penderecki was very well known for atonal music [that was] almost like noise, and in the late '70s and '80s [the Cello Concerto No. 2 was composed in 1982] he seemed more influenced by the Romantic movement. I wouldn't necessarily characterize his music as Romantic, but it became more accessible to a mass audience. So, generally, the music is extremely dramatic, very dark. Very often you'll hear interesting combinations of instruments brought out, as in the cello and percussion duets. There are very rhythmic sections, and he starts out with sounds that I think rather evoke insects. A lot of it is very, very spooky.

Ms. Fischer, tell us about the appeal of the Mozart to you.

Julia Fischer: Mozart for me was first and foremost an opera composer, and the challenge is to actually give the listener the feeling of an opera when performing an instrumental piece.

In performing these works, what do you want to communicate to the Philharmonic audience?

AW: Even though most of the Penderecki is in a consistent language, there are a lot of different emotional characters that come out. In a way, I think, this music is coming at one in waves. It begins very spooky and mournful and grows into an urgency and winds up being extremely dramatic and rhythmic. And then, it will come back down into the kind of spooky and dramatic character brought out by the orchestra. Very often the cello is mournful, almost a protest, against that. So in a way, the cello has the role of a protagonist.

JF: I want to show the drama of an opera to the audience. With the Mozart concerto's Turkish themes, it reminds me a lot of his opera Die Entf‹hrung aus dem Serail, and I am trying to find all these kinds of characters in the concerto, in my part as well as in the orchestra's part.

When and how did you first meet Lorin Maazel?

AW: I actually played an audition for him. It was exactly two years ago, the same year that I made my debut with the Philharmonic. The audition was for me to go on the Asian tour with them. I played Elgar's Cello Concerto. And it went very well, I believe. I went to Japan with him and the Orchestra two months later.

JF: I met him in a discussion about gifted children at Bavarian Radio in Munich when I was 13. He invited me to play for him; and after, we had our first concert together in March 1997, where we played the Bach double concerto.

What has Mr. Maazel's impact been on your music?

AW: I can say each experience I've had with him was unique and wonderful. I've really learned a lot from watching him more than anything else, watching him respond to the emotions in the music, watching him shape the phrases, even watching how he interacted with the orchestra. It has been, overall, a really, really fantastic experience that I'll never forget.

JF: The most important thing I've learned from him is professionalism. How well do you need to know the score when you go on stage with it? How well do you need to know it : technically as well as musically : to feel completely free with it? How exactly do you read what the composer wrote? Also, he is a violinist. I've learned a lot from him in terms of sound, such as fingerings that work well in concert, and bowings that make your sound more convincing.

What are you looking forward to in your performances with the Philharmonic?

AW: I think they will be a lot of fun. The Penderecki is not played very often. I think it's going to be a unique experience for all of us, onstage and for the audience as well.

JF: I always look forward to playing in New York, since I have come here so regularly over the past years. And I really enjoy working with this wonderful orchestra; since we have been on tour together, I know them quite well already. I feel great with them onstage.

Lawrence Van Gelder, an adjunct professor of writing at Columbia University's School of the Arts, is a retired New York Times culture reporter and contributor to 96.3 FM WQXR.

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