Cellist Alisa Weilerstein Describes the Kindred Spirit She Found in Her 1723 Montagnana

As a recipient of the esteemed MacArthur Fellowship in 2011, cellist Alisa Weilerstein is a vibrant and impressive force. In high demand for her singular sound and intense performances, Weilerstein recently embarked on a nine-city US tour with her pianist and performance partner Inon Barnatan and clarinetist Anthony McGill. The trio will be performing a world premiere of a piece written for the ensemble by composer Joseph Hallman, at New York’s Lincoln Center in Alice Tully Hall. I caught up with Weilerstein shortly after she had returned to the US from Germany to chat about her instrument.

—Heather K. Scott

What is your primary instrument?

I’m currently playing a 1723 Montagnana, which I’ve had for the past two-and-a-half years. I found it through a dealer, Christophe Landon. I had been playing a William Forster, Sr., cello for nearly 16 years. I took my Forster in for some work, and Landon introduced me to the Montagnana. I was skeptical, but after playing it for two minutes I was in love. I co-own it with a party that wishes to stay anonymous.

How does it compare to your previous primary instrument?

It is an amazing instrument. With it, I work half as hard—and get a 100 percent better performance.


What gift does your instrument bring to your playing that cannot be found in any other instrument? 

The instrument is definitely a kindred spirit. It is a good match both for me personally and for my playing. It is very easy to play and projects particularly well. It is also great for traveling and performs well in any climate. It has a limitless range of color, which I’m only just now scratching the surface. I’m still learning and growing with my instrument.

What do you know about its history or the people who’ve handled it before you?

Unfortunately, I don’t have any information on the instrument’s provenance or who may have owned it prior to me. The advantage to that is that the instrument is like a clean slate.

What drew you to this instrument?


Everything! It was so natural from the beginning for me to play and the sound blossomed so easily. It was so natural. I felt like I knew it already. You meet a person and you think you’ve met before—everything is so easy and feels so good. That’s how it felt when I met my Montagnana.

What is your instrument’s personality and temperament like?

It has a very strong personality, with multiple layers and colors. I think of it being “clear-eyed.” It really is a remarkable instrument; it performs well in most settings and I’ve not found any particular limitations—only strengths. When I first got it, I put it through a big test right away. I took it from Boston to New Zealand to play in Wellington Hall. It was brilliant. 

If you were to liken your instrument to a personality, does anyone specific come to mind?

I don’t think of my instrument as being like any one person. It is an absolute chameleon.

If given the ability, what would your instrument say to you if the two of you sat down for tea?

The meaning of life! I’m sure my cello might have some ideas—he’s lived so much longer than me.