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Weilerstein compelling in world premiere of Dusapin cello concerto with CSO

05.27.16
Alisa Weilerstein
The Chicago Tribune

If the Chicago Symphony Orchestra must be reduced to playing only one world premiere this season, let it be a new work as absorbing and important as French composer Pascal Dusapin's cello concerto, "Outscape." 
The CSO commissioned the piece for the extraordinary cellist Alisa Weilerstein, who gave it the kind of debut most composers can only dream of achieving, at the first of four subscription concerts under the direction of conductor Cristian Macelaru, Thursday night at Symphony Center. The composer attended, clearly elated by the performance and the audience's enthusiastic reception

Dusapin is one of the leading European composers of his generation, well represented on recordings, although relatively little of his music has been heard in the U.S. thus far. Having so eloquent an advocate of his music as Weilerstein can only help to remedy the situation. "Outscape" is the latest in a series of recent concertos the adventuresome cellist has championed, and she's scheduled to perform it with co-commissioning orchestras in Stuttgart, Paris and London this year and next.
The traditional concerto structure of solo instrumental voice framed against many orchestral voices (often in opposition) is not Dusapin's game plan: His half-hour concerto, structured as a single-movement arch, often switches roles so that the orchestra becomes the protagonist and the cellist the "orchestra." Much of the solo cello writing is ruminative, interior, almost neoromantic in its emotional trajectory, gradually intensifying in dramatic feeling as the rhythmic interaction between cellist and orchestra heats up.
The metaphor of escape and return — implicit in the title — is ever-prominent in the composer's deployment of cello and orchestra, along with imagery of remote northern landscapes. With exquisite subtlety, the regular strokes of tubular bells, gongs and woodblocks produce a kind of hieratic quality, as if the cellist were the high priestess in a mystic ceremony.
The long, gradual crescendo that is "Outscape" gathers incident and intensity before bursting forth in an exciting climax, as if the orchestra were releasing pent-up energies over the cellist's skittish exertions. Having gone their separate ways for much of the duration, the individual and its orchestral "id" finally merge as one. The rest is resonant silence.
Clad in a voluminous gown of flaming Chinese red, Weilerstein was as striking to look at as she was to hear. Could any cello virtuoso dispatch Dusapin's daunting bravura writing with such technical mastery or searching expressive commitment as she? The score has her intense musical personality written all over it. Read the rest of the review here