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A young cellist with moxie, Alisa Weilerstein

March 19, 2011 | 11:00 am

Alicia Alisa Weilerstein is used to leading a double life.

As an accelerated high school student, she was already a concertizing cellist who lugged her unwieldy instrument on and off trains and planes. As a Columbia University undergrad, she wrote philosophy papers while up in the air, traveling from one performance venue to another.

But make that a triple life.

The 28-year-old New Yorker, who is growing toward a stellar career and performs next week at Disney Hall, is also diabetic and has been since age 9 — all of which makes her overachievement understandably remarkable.

“I learned early how to do things efficiently,” she says on the phone from Santa Barbara with neither a trace of bravado nor a cry for compassion. “But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Any 24/7 condition, which this is, can be overwhelming. It’s never away from you.... It’s not like at home, where you know what to eat and how to dose. But I’ve got it down.”

Needless to say, this information is not exactly what performers in any field want their booking agents to know. In fact, it’s only recently that Weilerstein has openly talked about and acted as an advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

“I never even told my manager until three years ago,” she confides, “because the perception of diabetes is that you’re on dialysis or going blind or facing amputation. I wanted to prove I could have my music, my career and encourage other young people who were as scared as I was in the beginning.”

Indeed, Weilerstein set that example of self-determination even as a preschooler. She was only 4 when her passion for music surfaced. It was a cello, she begged for over and over. So her grandmother, recruited to baby-sit on a weekend both parents were performing out of town, fashioned one from a Rice Krispies box and a toothbrush.

Click here to read more about Alisa Weilerstein in my Arts & Books article.

— Donna Perlmutter

Photo: Alisa Weilerstein. Photo credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

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