Learn about our 70-year history.

Steven Isserlis


Steven Isserlis


Acclaimed worldwide for his profound musicianship and technical mastery, British cellist Steven Isserlis enjoys a unique and distinguished career as a soloist, chamber musician, educator, author and broadcaster.

As a concerto soloist he appears regularly with the world’s leading orchestras and conductors, including the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Philharmonia, London Philharmonic and Zurich Tonhalle Orchestras, and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. He gives recitals every season in major musical centres, and plays with many of the world’s foremost chamber orchestras, including the Australian, Mahler, Norwegian, Scottish and Zurich Chamber Orchestras, as well as period-instrument ensembles. Unusually, he also directs chamber orchestras from the cello in classical programmes.

16/17 highlights include performances with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the Salzburg Mozartwoche; the US premiere of Thomas Adès’s Lieux retrouvés (orchestral version) with the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by the composer, after European premieres in Lucerne and at the BBC Proms; Prokofiev’s Concerto Op. 58 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Vladimir Jurowski; Haydn’s C major Concerto with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Adam Fischer; and extensive tours in the UK, US and Asia with pianist Connie Shih, featuring the piano version of Adès’s Lieux retrouvés.

As a chamber musician, he has curated series for many of the world’s most famous festivals and venues, including the Wigmore Hall, the 92nd St Y in New York, Zankel Halls, and the Salzburg and Verbier festivals. These specially devised programmes have included ‘In the Shadow of War’, a major four-part series for the Wigmore Hall to mark the centenary of the First World War and the 75th anniversary of the Second World War; explorations of Czech music; the teacher-pupil line of Saint-Saëns, Fauré and Ravel; the affinity of the cello and the human voice; varied aspects of Robert Schumann’s life and music; and the music of Serge Taneyev (teacher of Steven’s grandfather, Julius Isserlis).  For these concerts Steven is joined by a regular group of friends which includes the violinists Joshua Bell, Isabelle Faust, Pamela Frank, and Janine Jansen, violist Tabea Zimmermann, and pianists Jeremy Denk, Alexander Melnikov, Olli Mustonen and Dénes Várjon.

He also takes a strong interest in authentic performance. Future projects include a recording of Chopin Sonatas and other works with Dénes Várjon for Hyperion, featuring Chopin’s own piano. In addition to working with many of the foremost period instrument orchestras, he gives frequent recitals with harpsichord and fortepiano. Together with Robert Levin, and using original or replica pianos from the early nineteenth century, Isserlis has performed and recorded Beethoven’s complete music for cello and piano, selected for the Deutsche SchallplattenPreis; and with Richard Egarr, he has performed and recorded the viola da gamba sonatas of J.S. Bach as well as sonatas by Handel and Scarlatti. Last season featured a special performance with Sir Andras Schiff at the Beethovenhaus in Bonn, on fortepiano and Beethoven’s own cello.

He is also a keen exponent of contemporary music and has premiered many new works including John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil (as well as several other pieces by Tavener), Thomas Adès’s Lieux retrouvés, Stephen Hough’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, Left Hand (Les Adieux), Wolfgang Rihm’s Concerto in One Movement, David Matthews’ Concerto in Azzurro, and For Steven by György Kurtág. In 16/17, he performs the UK premiere of Olli Mustonen’s of Frei, aber einsam for solo cello at the Wigmore Hall.

Writing and playing for children is another major enthusiasm. He has written the text for three musical stories for children – Little Red ViolinGoldiepegs and the Three Cellos, and Cindercella – with music by Oscar-winning composer Anne Dudley; these are published by Universal Edition in Vienna. He has also given many concerts for children, for several years presenting a regular series at the 92nd Street Y in New York. Steven Isserlis’ books for children about the lives of the great composers – Why Beethoven Threw the Stew and its sequel, Why Handel Waggled his Wig – are published by Faber and Faber, and have been translated into multiple languages. His latest book, a commentary on Schumann’s famous Advice for Young Musicians, is published by Faber and Faber in September 2016.

As an educator Steven Isserlis gives frequent masterclasses all around the world, and for the past nineteen years he has been Artistic Director of the International Musicians’ Seminar at Prussia Cove in Cornwall, where his fellow-professors include Sir Andras Schiff, Thomas Adès and Ferenc Rados.

As a writer and broadcaster, he contributes regularly to publications including GramophoneThe Daily Telegraph and The Guardian, has guest edited The Strad magazine, and makes regular appearances on BBC Radio including on the Today programme, Soul Music, as guest presenter of two editions of Saturday Classics, and as writer and presenter of a documentary about the life of Robert Schumann. Most recently, he presented a documentary on BBC Radio 4 ‘Finding Harpo’s Voice’, about his hero Harpo Marx.

His diverse interests are reflected in an extensive and award-winning discography. His recording of the complete Solo Cello Suites by J.S. Bach for Hyperion met with the highest critical acclaim, and was Gramophone’s Instrumental Album of the Year and Critic’s Choice at the Classic BRITS. Other recent releases include the Elgar and Walton concertos, alongside works by Gustav and Imogen Holst, with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Paavo Järvi; Prokofiev and Shostakovich concertos with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony and Paavo Järvi; Dvořák Cello Concertos with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Daniel Harding; and recital discs with Stephen Hough, Thomas Adès and (for BIS) a Grammy-nominated album of sonatas by Martinů, as well as works by Mustonen and Sibelius with Olli Mustonen. Steven’s latest release is the Brahms Double Concerto with Joshua Bell and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, coupled with the 1854 version of Brahms’ B Major Piano Trio (with Jeremy Denk) and the premiere recording of Benjamin Britten’s version of the slow movement of Schumann’s Violin Concerto. Forthcoming recordings include concertos by Haydn, CPE Bach and Boccherini, with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, and a special First World War-inspired disc partly featuring the “Trench Cello”; a cello, which was played in the trenches by its owner, a soldier named Harold Triggs.

The recipient of many awards, Steven Isserlis’s honours include a CBE in recognition of his services to music and the Schumann Prize of the City of Zwickau. He is also one of only two living cellists featured in Gramophone’s Hall of Fame.

He gives most of his concerts on the Marquis de Corberon (Nelsova) Stradivarius of 1726, kindly loaned to him by the Royal Academy of Music, where he has just been announced as ‘Marquis de Corberon Visiting Professor of Cello'.

Meet a Musician

Samuel Nemec