Reach­ing Switzer­land, via the L.A. Phil

In four years, Joshua Weil­er­stein rose from Dudamel fel­low to in-de­mand mae­stro.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By James C. Tay­lor cal­en­dar@la­

NEW YORK — Four years ago, Joshua Weil­er­stein came to Los An­ge­les as a 23-year-old grad­u­ate stu­dent to be one of the Los An­ge­les Phil­har­monic’s Dudamel fel­lows — a highly sought ap­pren­tice­ship for young con­duc­tors.

This week Weil­er­stein re­turns to L.A. as a mae­stro in his own right af­ter a stint as as­sis­tant con­duc­tor at the New York Phil­har­monic and, in Novem­ber, win­ning the job of artis­tic direc­tor for the Orchestre de Cham­bre de Lau­sanne in Switzer­land.

Speak­ing at a cafe near his old place of work, Lin­coln Cen­ter, Weil­er­stein ex­udes a re­laxed, no-big-deal man­ner for some­one who just taught a class at Juil­liard (step­ping in for Itzhak Perl­man) and is about to dash off to Texas later in the day to make his de­but with the Dal­las Sym­phony — to say noth­ing of be­ing handed the keys to a Swiss orches­tra with more than 70 years of his­tory and a $10-mil­lion bud­get.

As earn­ing the Lau­sanne post sug­gests, Weil­er­stein is much in de­mand as a con­duc­tor. Af­ter lead­ing the L.A. Phil at the Hol­ly­wood Bowl last year, Times critic Mark Swed wrote that Weil­er­stein “may not yet have best­selling record­ings on the mar­ket, but he is one of the most promis­ing podium pres­ences of his gen­er­a­tion.”

On Satur­day at the Alex Theatre in Glen­dale and Sun­day at UCLA’s Royce Hall, Weil­er­stein leads the Los An­ge­les Cham­ber Orches­tra in a pro­gram that in­cludes Mozart’s “Jupiter” Sym­phony and Saint-Saëns’ cello con­certo fea­tur­ing soloist Narek Hakhnazaryan.

“The Mozart is some­thing I’ve done a lot — not to men­tion it’s one of the great­est pieces ever writ­ten. I like do­ing it on de­buts,” he says, ex­plain­ing how the LACO pro­gram was se­lected. Hakhnazaryan sug­gested the Saint-Saëns.

“My at­ti­tude is the soloist is the boss,” Weil­er­stein says. “The con­duc­tor gets the other part of the con­cert.”

His fam­ily is a mu­si­cal dy­nasty that in­cludes his fa­ther, Don­ald Weil­er­stein, a vi­o­lin­ist and founder of the Cleve­land Quar­tet, and his mother, Vi­vian Hornik Weil­er­stein, a noted cham­ber mu­si­cian and fac­ulty mem­ber at New Eng­land Con­ser­va­tory. Alisa Weil­er­stein, Joshua’s sis­ter, is a MacArthur grant win­ner and cel­list of in­ter­na­tional fame with a record­ing con­tract at Decca.

“It’s been fun to watch his progress. I knew him from the time he was 6 or 7 years old,” says Alan Gil­bert, the New York Phil­har­monic mu­sic direc­tor who hired Weil­er­stein. “My fa­ther and Josh’s fa­ther were room­mates and close friends at Juil­liard … but when I knew Josh, he was this bas­ket­ball ob­sessed, bril­liant lit­tle kid.”

Weil­er­stein even­tu­ally dropped bas­ket­ball and picked up a vi­o­lin. He went on tour with the Simón Bolí­var Sym­phony Orches­tra (the en­sem­ble’s first non Venezue­lan guest mem­ber), where he got to know L.A. Phil mu­sic and artis­tic direc­tor Gus­tavo Dudamel. But at con­ser­va­tory he took up the ba­ton as well, and in 2009 he won first prize and the au­di­ence prize at the Malko Com­pe­ti­tion for Young Con­duc­tors in Copen­hagen.

“You have to fig­ure out right away what the orches­tra needs from you,” Weil­er­stein says about con­duct­ing. “I have strong ideas, but I’m not go­ing to be a dic­ta­tor about them. I don’t feel that’s a good way to work. I’m very in­ter­ested in the psy­chol­ogy of orches­tras.”

Weil­er­stein says his time as a vi­o­lin­ist in orches­tras helps him be at­tuned to mu­si­cians’ needs.

“I think that mu­si­cians grow up and are trained, all the way through con­ser­va­tory ed­u­ca­tion, to be in­de­pen­dent, to play with your own per­sonal sound,” he says. “And then you’re sud­denly in the mid­dle of the sec­ond vi­o­lin sec­tion. It’s a won­der­ful thing, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great job, but I think it’s easy to sud­denly lose all sense that you have a say in things.”

One of his men­tors and con­ser­va­tory tu­tors is con­duc­tor Hugh Wolff, who said he saw Weil­er­stein as a promis­ing tal­ent be­fore his first les­son.

“That’s a fairly rare thing,” Wolff says. “He has a phys­i­cal com­mand that you re­ally can’t teach.” says Wolff, who tu­tored Weil­er­stein at the con­ser­va­tory. “And what Josh has that’s rare at his age is the abil­ity to run an ef­fi­cient, col­le­gial and mu­si­cal re­hearsal. He has a very good sense of how to ex­press ideas in a pos­i­tive way and knows how to get mu­si­cians to go along with him.”

In ad­di­tion to chang­ing peo­ple’s per­spec­tive about the role of the con­duc­tor, Weil­er­stein wants to push bound­aries in reper­tory. On the LACO pro­gram is a work by 35-year-old com­poser Joseph Hall­man. The moody, 17-minute piece is ti­tled “imag­ined land­scapes: six love­craftian else­wheres,” and it’s in­spired by the macabre writ­ings of au­thor H.P. Love­craft.

“I’m re­ally grate­ful to the orches­tra for agree­ing to do it,” Weil­er­stein says. “He’s not a known com­poser, and he needs more ex­po­sure. I think the au­di­ence will en­joy it.”

Ul­ti­mately Weil­er­stein feels his job as a leader of an orches­tra is to com­mu­ni­cate the power of mu­sic. “I think peo­ple are look­ing for ex­pe­ri­ences,” he says. “I feel like what I would love to do is broaden the au­di­ence of clas­si­cal mu­sic, and not just Mozart and Beethoven.”

Jen­nifer S. Alt­man For The Times


Weil­er­stein of Orchestre de Cham­bre de Lau­sanne has two L.A. shows.

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