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Steven Isserlis

Steven Isserlis
Born 19 December 1958
London, England
Nationality British
Occupation Cellist
Website .com.stevenisserliswww

Steven Isserlis CBE (born 19 December 1958, London) is a British cellist. He is distinguished for his diverse repertoire, distinctive sound deployed with his use of gut strings and command of phrasing.


  • Early life and studies 1
  • Professional life 2
  • Writing 3
  • Honours 4
  • Personal life 5
  • Bibliography 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early life and studies

Isserlis was born in London on 19 December 1958 into a musical family. His grandfather, Julius Isserlis,[1] who was a Russian Jew, was one of 12 musicians allowed to leave Russia in the 1920s to promote Russian culture, but he never returned.[2] On the Midweek programme on 29 January 2014, Steven Isserlis revealed that on arrival in Vienna in 1922, his pianist grandfather and father found a flat, but the 102-year-old landlady refused to take in a musician, because her aunt had a previous musician tenant who was noisy and would spit on the floor—this tenant was Ludwig van Beethoven.[3] Steven's mother was a piano teacher, and his father was a keen amateur musician. His sister Annette is a viola player, and his other sister Rachel is a violinist. Isserlis has described how "playing music, playing together", was an integral part of his early family life.[4]

He went to the City of London School, which he left at the age of 14 to move to Scotland to study under the tutelage of Jane Cowan.[2] From 1976 to 1978 Isserlis studied at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music[5] with Richard Kapuscinski and was much influenced by Daniil Shafran, of whom Isserlis has described how "His vibrato, his phrasing, his rhythm all belonged to a unique whole... He was incapable of playing one note insincerely; his music spoke from the soul."[6]

Professional life

Steven Isserlis performs solo, in chamber concerts, and with orchestra. He is a staunch advocate of lesser-known composers and of greater access to music for younger audiences. Isserlis is committed to authentic performance and frequently performs with the foremost period instrument orchestras. He has performed Beethoven with fortepianist Robert Levin in Boston and London, and Dvořák's Cello Concerto with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Sir Simon Rattle. He has also published several editions and arrangements, principally for Faber Music, and was an advisor on new editions of Beethoven's cello sonatas and cello variations, as well as the cello concertos of Dvořák and Elgar. He commissioned a new completion of Prokofiev's Cello Concertino from the Udmurt musicologist Vladimir Blok, which was premiered on 11 April 1997 in Cardiff, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Mark Wigglesworth.[7] At the other end of the spectrum, Isserlis has premiered works by composers John Tavener (who wrote The Protecting Veil especially for the cellist), Lowell Liebermann, Carl Vine, David Matthews, John Woolrich, Wolfgang Rihm, Mikhail Pletnev and Thomas Adès.

Isserlis plays the De Munck Stradivarius, on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation. He also part-owns a Montagnana cello from 1740 and a Guadagnini cello of 1745, which he played exclusively from 1979 to 1998 and part-owns with David Waterman, cellist of the Endellion Quartet. Isserlis made his debut directing from the cello in February 2008, with the Irish Chamber Orchestra at the National Concert Hall in Dublin.

He has organized a number of festivals with long-term collaborators such as Joshua Bell, Stephen Hough, Mikhail Pletnev, András Schiff, Denes Varjon, Olli Mustonen and Tabea Zimmermann, and actors Barry Humphries[8] and Simon Callow.[9] He is artistic director of the International Musicians Seminar, Prussia Cove in West Cornwall, where he both performs and teaches.

Isserlis's recordings reflect the breadth and eclecticism of his repertoire. His most recent release of reVisions for BIS includes arrangements and reconstruction of works by Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev and Bloch.[10] For Hyperion Records,[11] Isserlis has recorded Schumann's music for cello and piano (Dénes Várjon), and the complete solo cello suites by Bach, which has won many awards, including Listeners' Disc of the Year on BBC Radio 3's CD Review, Gramophone's Instrumental Disc of the Year,[12] and "Critic's Choice" at the 2008 Classical Brits. Other releases include two recordings with Stephen Hough: the Brahms sonatas, coupled with works by Dvořák and Suk; a highly acclaimed disc of children's cello music for BIS Records; and a recording with Thomas Ades of his new piece 'Lieux Retrouves'. Upcoming releases include a disc in 2013 of the Dvorak Cello Concerto with Hyperion and a selection of works with the pianist/conductor Olli Mustonen on the BIS label in the following year.


Steven Isserlis is the author of two books for children on the lives of famous composers: the first is Why Beethoven Threw the Stew (Faber & Faber, 2001), and the second is Why Handel Waggled His Wig (Faber & Faber, 2006). He has also written three stories that have been set to music by Oscar-winning composer Anne Dudley. The first of the series Little Red Violin (and the Big, Bad Cello) received its first performance in New York in March 2007, followed by Goldipegs and the Three Cellos, and Cindercella (published by Universal Edition, Vienna). He has also made several additions for Faber Music and


He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1998, and collected his award with his father, as his mother had died earlier that week.[2] He was awarded the Schumann Prize 2000 by the city of Zwickau.

Personal life

His wife Pauline Mara, a flautist, died of cancer in June 2010.[13] His son, Gabriel Mara Isserlis, born 1990, is currently working towards a dual degree BS/BA in IT and film at the Rochester Institute of Technology.


  • Why Beethoven Threw the Stew: And Lots More Stories about the Lives of Great Composers (2002)
  • Why Handel Waggled His Wig (2006)
  • Anthem Guide to the Opera, Concert Halls and Classical Music Venues of Europe (2007)
  • 1001 Classical Recordings You Must Hear Before You Die (2008)


  1. ^ Gdal Saleski, Singers of Jewish origin (1927). "JULIUS ISSERLIS Julius Isserlis, who is one of the most outstanding of the many pianists Russia has given to the world in the present generation, was born in Kishineff, Russia, on October 26, 1889."
  2. ^ a b c "Desert Island Discs with Steven Isserlis".  
  3. ^ Aspden, Peter. "Cellist Steven Isserlis on his pianist grandfather and his compositions". Financial Times. Retrieved 22 February 2014. 
  4. ^ Steven Isserlis bio from Bach Cantatas
  5. ^ , January 2002Strings Magazine"The Wonderful World of Steven Isserlis",
  6. ^ Steven Isserlis: "Recollections of Daniil Shafran", Classicus, 1998
  7. ^ Article
  8. ^ "Classical Review: Sir Les on song, Steven Isserlis" / Barry Humphries, The Independent, 4 November 1997 [1]
  9. ^ "'Dying of love for you', On the 150th anniversary of Robert Schumann's death", Steven Isserlis, The Guardian, 5 August 2006 [2]
  10. ^ , 15 August 2010The Observer"Steven Isserlis, reVisions", review in
  11. ^ [3]
  12. ^ Isserlis, Steven (2007). Hyperion, ed. Bach: The Cello Suites (PDF). pp. 5–6. 
  13. ^ : "Revisions: Steven Isserlis"The Guardian

External links

  • Personal website
  • article by Tom ServiceGuardian
  • IMS Prussia Cove
  • Hyperion Records
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