Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Anti-Mutter

While anyone might be forgiven for thinking this photograph depicts Shirley Stoler, in fact it is a photograph of American cellist Alisa Weilerstein.

Weilerstein is twenty years younger than Anne-Sophie Mutter—yet Weilerstein looks old enough to be Mutter’s mother.

A friend of mine from Vienna was in Oslo on business this past week, and he happened to attend a concert of the Oslo Philharmonic. The conductor and soloist were the infamous Weilersteins, brother Joshua and sister Alisa, one of the more bizarre brother-and-sister acts to have entered the field of show business over the last hundred years.

My Viennese friend said the concert was the worst concert he had ever attended (my friend is my age, comes from a musical family, and has been attending concerts and recitals since he was fifteen years old). He said the Weilersteins came across like bumpkins at a fancy-dress ball. He said they were personifications of the stepsisters in the ballet, “Cinderella”: ugly, clumsy, crass, low-class—and perpetually clueless, and perpetually on-the-make. The Weilersteins were, he said, I Trashisti Puri.

I have had the misfortune of hearing cellist Weilerstein, both in concert and in recital.

After hearing Weilerstein play the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1 with the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic under Yuri Temirkanov in April 2011 in Boston, I wrote:

Weilerstein was inaudible much of the afternoon. The Concerto is a series of personal utterances for the soloist, tempered with isolated public outbursts, and only the outbursts involve full orchestra. Issues of audibility should not arise in this work.

Yet Weilerstein was barely audible when unaccompanied, even in the lengthy third-movement cadenza. She disappeared completely in passages involving full orchestra. I wonder whether Weilerstein plays an inferior instrument.

Weilerstein must have an Actors’ Equity card. She performed a series of moon faces for the audience while she performed. She also engaged in unnecessary and ostentatious playacting gestures when applying bow to strings.

The disparity between the largeness of Weilerstein’s onstage dramatics and the smallness of her sound was disconcerting.

After hearing Weilerstein in recital (Beethoven, Barber, Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff) in January 2013 in Saint Paul, I wrote:

Weilerstein is a capable instrumentalist, but she is not an interesting musician. Her playing is bland; it lacks personality and individuality and character and depth. Everything she plays sounds much the same—and, to my ears, remarkably insincere.

Weilerstein is thirty years old. Her musicianship is that of someone ten years younger, which signifies that Weilerstein is developing far too slowly . . . or has no business embarking upon a solo career. Weilerstein appears to be—and very much acts like—the prototypical American airhead, with very little between the ears.

Throughout the recital, Weilerstein emoted shamelessly.

Her facial muscles received the workout of a lifetime; it was exhausting—and ultimately demoralizing—to watch Weilerstein go through her prepared facial maneuvers. Her eyebrows, alone, embarked on a Marine Corps-like lifting regimen demanding unprecedented strength and endurance.

Weilerstein threw her head—and mountains of hair—back and forth and side-to-side all night, like some madwoman in a 1930s Warner Brothers prison movie; her ostentatious, ultra-dramatic bow movements, clearly rehearsed, were straight from 19th-Century “She Can’t Pay The Rent” melodrama.

I hadn’t seen such hokey onstage dramatics since . . . the last time I saw Weilerstein.

The above photograph of Weilerstein, incomprehensibly, is an official publicity photograph—a publicity photograph gone horribly awry. If I were the artist, not only would I not have cleared the photograph, I would have sued.

How can anyone do other than laugh at the photo? The upturned face to hide the double chin; the fake dreamy gaze on the subject’s face; the subject’s pig-like eyes; the revolting makeup scheme intended to give the illusion that the subject has a facial structure; the ridiculous (and supremely unflattering) hair; the gown that looks totally preposterous on such a blob-like body: the photograph is instant camp.

Doesn’t this woman have any idea how grotesque she looks? Doesn’t she have friends who can help her get her presentation in order?

To begin repairs, as a first measure, I would suggest that it’s time to lay off the Cocoa Puffs.


  1. Oh, my, Andrew, you are the undisputed emperor of the calculated insult, both subtle and not-so-subtle. "show business," "I Trashisti Puri," "upturned face to hide the double chin," "Cocoa Puffs" . . . I never laughed so much!

    But the truth about the photo cannot be denied: She looks like she is trying out for a remake of Theda Bara's "Cleopatra."

  2. A gentleman NEVER insults anyone unintentionally.

  3. And I cannot take credit for “I Trashisti Puri”, which is another person’s characterization.

    And was not this foolish woman inviting ridicule by allowing publication of such a grotesque photograph?