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Brahms and Shostakovich – Iceland Symphony Orchestra

American cello virtuoso Alisa Weilerstein won a coveted MacArthur Foundation grant in 2011 for, as the adjudication panel expressed it, “combining technical precision with impassioned musicianship.” That decision was welcomed by the press, including The New York Times, which referred to her as a musician of genuine vision.

Weilerstein’s husband is conductor Rafael Payare, who received his training in Venezuela’s El Sistema orchestral programme. Formerly principal hornist of the famous Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, Payare won first prize at the Nicolai Malko Competition for Young Conductors in 2012 and has recently been appointed Music Director of the San Diego Symphony.

On this evening’s programme at the Iceland Symphony, Weilerstein performs Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto no. 2, written in 1966 for Mstislav Rostropovich. It is a dark, introspective work, although with glimpses of the composer’s sense of humour, as in the references to Ukrainian street music. Symphony no. 2 is the most jovial and accessible of Brahms’ symphonies, earning him popularity among music lovers worldwide. One of the composer’s friends described it like this: “It is all rippling streams, blue sky, sunshine, and cool green shadows!”

A new orchestral piece by Sveinn Lúðvík Björnsson is always good news. His contemplative style has brought him deserved attention, and when the Iceland Symphony performed his Clarinet Concerto in 2014, the critic from Fréttablaðið called it a mesmerising experience, ranking the concerto “among the very best Icelandic concerti I have ever heard.”

Sveinn Lúðvík Björnsson Glerhjallar, premiere
Dmitri Shostakovich Cello Concerto no. 2
Johannes Brahms Symphony no. 2

Rafael Payare

Alisa Weilerstein