Steven Isserlis

About Steven Isserlis

A sinewy yet expressive lyricism characterises the playing of British cellist Steven Isserlis. His sound partly derives from his use of gut rather than metal strings: Isserlis makes up for their relatively reticent character with Zen-like focus on tone and the expressive line of the music he performs. Born in London in 1958, Isserlis studied at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. By his own account, however, he was inspired above all by recordings of the Russian cellist Daniil Shafran, as well as those of Pablo Casals whose playing of Schumann inspired Isserlis’ lifelong love of that composer. The Protecting Veil, a concerto Isserlis commissioned from the English composer John Tavener and premiered at the 1989 BBC Proms, catapulted him to widespread fame, sealed by his subsequent 1992 recording of that work. He also at this time formed a piano trio with two very different musicians—the impetuous pianist Olli Mustonen, and the glowingly lyrical violinist Joshua Bell—with whom he successfully toured and recorded. He has also recorded several times with the pianist Stephen Hough. Isserlis’ repertoire and his enthusiasms are notably wide, encompassing the Cello Suites of both J.S. Bach and Britten as well as concertos by C.P.E. Bach and Haydn; yet he has a particular fondness for Russian repertoire, and has recorded such neglected works as Kabalevsky’s Cello Concerto No. 2 and the original version of Prokofiev’s Cello Concerto, of which he made the first complete recording in 2013.

London, England
19 December 1958

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