Steven Isserlis

Cello

Biography

Acclaimed worldwide for his profound musicianship and technical mastery, British cellist Steven Isserlis enjoys a uniquely varied career as a soloist, chamber musician, educator, author and broadcaster. He appears with the world’s leading orchestras and conductors, and gives recitals in major musical centres. As a chamber musician, he has curated concert series for many prestigious venues, including London’s Wigmore Hall, New York’s 92nd St Y, and the Salzburg Festival. Unusually, he also directs chamber orchestras from the cello in classical programmes.

He has a strong interest in historical performance, working with many period-instrument orchestras and giving recitals with harpsichord and fortepiano. He is also a keen exponent of contemporary music and has given many premieres of new works, including Sir John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil and many other works, Thomas Adès’s Lieux retrouvés, three works for solo cello by György Kurtág, and pieces by Heinz Holliger and Jörg Widmann.

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Recent News

This Week at the BBC Proms: Vladimir Jurowski and Steven Isserlis

Vladimir Jurowski and Steven Isserlis return to Royal Albert Hall for their BBC Proms performance on Thursday, 12 August at 19:30 BST. This marks Jurowski’s final appearance as the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Principal Conductor of his monumental 14-year tenure....

The BBC Proms are Back!

The BBC Proms are back! The world’s biggest classical music festival features six weeks of live music from 30 July through 11 September. The 52 concerts will be performed in front of live audiences, and be broadcast on BBC TV and radio channels, BBC Sounds and...

Reviews

…a superbly stylish rendering … graceful … exquisite … deeply-felt playing. [Haydn’s C-major Cello Concerto]

The Classical Source

“He can have the listener in perpetual wonder at the ingredients of his art…”

The Australian

“… this is one of those performances where everything hits the spot … [Isserlis] gets the mood exactly right, playing with an appealing blend of warmth and resignation. The flamboyant passages sparkle, and the last movement’s devastating backward glance is a belter. [Elgar, Cello Concerto]”

The Art Desk

More Reviews

“Cellist Steven Isserlis played the solo part as if to the manner born … perfect exactness …”
The Telegraph  August 2021

“… fireworks … pure perfection …”
Bachtrack July 2021

“… splendid … magic … a delectable, songful performance …”
Seen and Heard International July 2021

“Super Schumann … gorgeous .… completely winning … You’ll go a long way before you hear a performance as sweet or as loving as this one …”
Bachtrack May 2021

“… a stunning journey … magnificent: notes and intonations float in a vast spectrum of presence so rich it’s almost visible.”
Limelight Magazine  April 2021

“… eloquent … impassioned feeling and mellow serenity in just the right balance … dazzling … sumptuous …”

The Arts Desk  April 2021

“… ravishing subtlety … beauty of tone … magical throughout …”
The Times March 2021

“… he whirled through the concerto like a dynamo, investing the outer movements with a touch of delirium that gave them an almost frightening energy before getting fully inside the desperate keening of the slow movement … Exciting yet profound, this was a reminder of how powerfully such music speaks to anyone living in tough times.”
The Times February 2021

“… Steven Isserlis at his ravishing best … this is what nourishes the soul … gorgeously arresting … life-enhancing.”
The Times July 2020

“… superlative … Only years of deep knowledge and experience can yield playing as seemingly effortless as this … amazing … profound musicality.”
The Arts Desk July 2020

“… impressive … sublime … an altogether wonderful concert.”
The Telegraph June 2020

“… many treasurable moments  … Isserlis is very, very good at creating unspoken words … ”
The Times June 2020

“… joyful … lustrous … up another notch … Isserlis is one of the concert platform’s great emoters …”
The Guardian June 2020

“… an excellent soloist and artist with deep musical sensitivity … a masterful interpretation …”

La Voce di Mantova February 2020

“If the last leaves haven’t blown off the trees, this recital might have finished the job …  tasteful … elegant … imaginative … explosive …”

The Times December 2019

“Isserlis’s lovely rapturous lyricism […] was a boon throughout the evening … magnificent …”

The Telegraph December 2019

“…it’s hard to imagine more thoughtful, well-prepared performances … Every vivid emotion – passion, anguish, hysteria, vivacity, despair – makes it mark … Isserlis is en pointe throughout … tremendous …”

Limelight Magazine November 2019

“… a peerless opening recital … astonishing exuberance and joy … sparkle, brilliance, clarity and bite … radiant, energetic virtuosity, charismatic partnership … glorious …”

The Arts Desk September 2019

“… profoundly moving … a deeply satisfying night of chamber music …”
LA Times May 2019

“Patrons in the packed Symphony Hall experienced a concert few of them will forget … elegant, exciting, and exquisite performances.” 

The Boston Musical Intelligencer April 2019

“… exceptional … [Isserlis] is one of the most extraordinary of cellists. Fauré’s beautiful miniature Romance and his famous Élégie were delivered with such intensity and sincerity that the audience seemed stunned.” 

Bachtrack April 2019

“Whenever there’s another CD from the always wonderful Steven Isserlis in the new releases, you just know you’re in for something special, and so it proves yet again with Shostakovich & Kabalevsky Cello Sonatas … Isserlis displaying his usual full-blooded and passionate, yet always sensitive and musically intelligent playing … a simply outstanding CD.”

The Whole Note March 2019

“… fabulously played … this British cellist has an exceptional sound … the highest elegance …” 

RP Online March 2019

“Tremendous, incandescent … The Cello Sonata by Dmitry Kabalevsky has been in need of a really first-class recording … I wonder if Isserlis and Mustonen have made one that’s better than the piece itself … This is a recording not to be missed.”

The Strad March 2019

“… vivid, bracing, memorable … a delight from start to finish … a jaw-dropping performance …”

The Washington Post March 2019

“… brilliant … the finest recording of the work I have heard … great style and panache … strong and detailed as well as committed … real integrity and understanding … This is an excellent performance, one which I will be enjoying regularly in the years to come.”

Musicweb International March 2019

“Stylish playing, bursting with character throughout – but then what else would one expect from cellist Steven Isserlis … ?”

Gramophone Magazine February 2019

“This winning Russian programme, one of high twentieth-century narrative, has everything going for it … In brilliant, hungry form, Isserlis and Olli Mustonen do it glorious justice, taking the music and us by the throat … These two transcendentalists have never been short of chemistry or electricity. Combined, the voltage is lethal, searingly at one with the intensity and intoxication of the music … The realisation is revelatory. A triumph of a release.”

Classical Source February 2019

“… poetic imagination and inspired musicianship … a brilliantly conceived and played program … you would be hard pressed to find better performances …”

Arts Fuse February 2019

“… captivating … impressive … remarkable … expertly performed …” 

Presto Classical February 2019

” … Steven Isserlis stands near the very top. He’s now taken on the mantle of Britain’s Best-Loved Cellist, partly because he’s so much more than a very fine player … [Schumann’s Cello Concerto] needs a really persuasive advocate to reveal its depths. In Isserlis’s hands, the flickers became a furnace of intense, yearning inwardness.” 

The Telegraph January 2019

“…a masterly performance by this pre-eminent advocate of Schumann’s oft-criticised later music … This charismatic performer engages directly with his audience, willing them to come with him on his journey, eyes shining, head held high.”

Bachtrack January 2019

“… his seamless phrasing and sweet tone drew the ear unfailingly towards him, and his Catalan folksong encore held the hall rapt.”

The Guardian January 2019

“Isserlis is not only a world-class cellist, he’s also one of the rare musicians whose playing reliably creates goose bumps … [he] enchants his spellbound audience …”

Westfalenpost January 2019

“Certain artists are so extraordinary it becomes almost dull to reiterate just how bloody brilliant they are. But who cares? Steven Isserlis’ bravura rendition of Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto … was a complete knockout.”

Limelight Magazine December 2018

“To say Mr. Isserlis stirred his audience’s emotions is the understatement of the year.”
Broadway World December 2018

“More than once one is struck by how paragraphs and episodes breathe, surge and cadence, rests and silences given potent tension; this is finely articulate cultured playing – ruminant poetry and reflective musicality, aristocratically suspended climaxes, carrying the argument free of ego or ‘produced’ theatre.”

Classical Source October 2018

“… wonderfully innate … never less than scintillating … detailed and immediate … Even among Isserlis’s many fine discs, this one stands out.”

 Gramophone Magazine October 2018

“Isserlis is one of the most insightful and intelligent cellists around …”

The Whole Note September 2018

“In it you can hear anguish … defiance and great beauty, all of which was illuminated with immaculate artistry in this performance …”

The Daily Telegraph July 2018

“Though Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1, Opus 107 has much of the terrifying machine about it, cellist Steven Isserlis avoided a hammered or bludgeoning approach, creating tension at the opening in taut insistent rhythms and imaginative exploration of sound.”

Sydney Morning Herald July 2018

“Isserlis plays this work like a man in a world tipped up on end by madness, clinging with his finger nails to a sense of order … an exhilarating and at times terrifying version of Shostakovich’s masterpiece.”

Canberra Times June 2018

“Playing alone, his incomparable technique, phrasing, expression and sensitivity across all the tempi and dynamics, quite simply, were incredible. There can be no doubt that Isserlis is an inspired – and inspiring – musician …”

Limelight Magazine June 2018

“… very impressive … focussed, inspired and inspiring … We were in the presence of a very great cellist who has all the desirable qualities for this instrument … exemplary.”

Info-Culture April 2018

“Isserlis has always been able to make his lyrical playing pulse with emotional heat and so it was here …”

Financial Times February 2018

“… a fine display of musicianship …”

Bachtrack February 2018

“… an exceptionally fine duo … The hall was sold out …supreme accomplishment.”

The Independent February 2018

“… a triumph … the music-making was truly sublime.”

The Evening Standard February 2018

“… a first-rate international star … A dramatic presence onstage … this master cellist commands attention.”

San Francisco Classical Voice February 2018

“Isserlis’ opening solo – emphatic groan followed by long heaving sigh – was breathtaking for its depth of despair. This was its tenor from tumultuous opening to devastating close.” [Elgar, Cello Concerto]

The Straits Times October 2017

“… absolutely wonderful … this album is worth acquiring whether you’re yet to own a recording of these masterpieces or your collection is already bulging with them. Isserlis’s 1998 recording remains classy stuff, but this has superbly trumped it.” [Haydn, CPE Bach: Cello Concertos CD]

Gramophone Magazine September 2017

“This recording is a real tonic. I defy anyone not to smile at Steven Isserlis’s effervescent readings of Haydn’s graceful and urbane cello concertos in C major and in D major. He spins an exquisitely light and agile line, maintaining a delightfully sunny disposition, even in each concerto’s adagio … a CD to treasure. ”

The Observer September 2017

“The word that classical music critics most overuse is revelatory … But Wednesday night’s Mostly Mozart Festival performance by the orchestra was indeed a revelation … a riveting performance that displayed Isserlis’s soulfulness … What a night! Bravi!”

EdgeMediaNetwork

“Through his sensitive performance, he impressively expressed the poeticism and lyricism of the work through colour and dynamics on-stage. Isserlis expertly knew how to intertwine the solo line with the orchestra. The cellist is one who devotes himself fully to every individual musical moment and surrenders himself to the music.”

Berner Zeitung May 2017

“Fiery and energised … Isserlis’s artful vibrato and the sheer colourfulness he elicits from his cello, are unparalleled.”

Der Bund May 2017

“A capacity audience was held in thrall … hauntingly beautiful … a constant flow of beautiful sound … stunning virtuosity.”

Eastern Daily Press May 2017

“Vivid drama, expressive phrasing and spontaneity … Steven Isserlis displayed all these qualities … Isserlis gave a soft sheen to the cantabile … and an intense serenity to the slow movement … simply gorgeous.”

The Washington Post April 2017

“… candid brilliance … marvellous creativity … miraculous spontaneity …”

Gazzetta di Mantova January 2017

“Few musicians can boast an elegance on their instrument equal to that of Steven Isserlis on the cello.”

Amadeus January 2017

“sensitive, emotional … electrifying … spine-tingling … stunning … This was a world class concert”

The Yorkshire Times 

“Impeccable lyricism … superb … the very best of English cello music.”

NZ Herald 

“… this is one of those performances where everything hits the spot … [Isserlis] gets the mood exactly right, playing with an appealing blend of warmth and resignation. The flamboyant passages sparkle, and the last movement’s devastating backward glance is a belter. [Elgar, Cello Concerto] “

The Art Desk 

“Walton’s concerto … has received a number of fine recordings in recent years and this is up there with the best of them. In terms of sheer virtuosity it might well have never been bettered, especially in the second movement, Allegro appassionato, which I have rarely heard played with such apparent ease. “

The Elgar Society Journal 

“Steven Isserlis made a fine, fierce recording of the Elgar Cello Concerto with the LSO 18 years ago; this new version, with the Philharmonia and conductor Paavo Järvi, is fiercer still – older, wiser and even more convincing.”

The Guardian 

“… it was a complete and exhilarating evening … a privilege and a pleasure to have been present in the company of a musician who has such a personal and probing way with this timeless music … a celebrated concert. [J.S. Bach, Suites for Solo Cello] “

The Classical Source 

“This was a performance on the edge: deeply thoughtful and personal, and profoundly human.”

The Classical Source 

“It’s no surprise, perhaps, that Steven Isserlis’s latest reading of the Elgar concerto should be special: this is a long-loved, lived-in interpretation in which every superfluity has been scoured away leaving only an extraordinarily pure line of expression … The scherzo has plenty of attack, the Adagio is almost unbearably poignant while Isserlis’s finale explodes into life with a bristling humour and rhythmic vitality all-too rare.”

BBC Music Magazine 

“Simply sublime. “

Limelight Magazine 

“Isserlis can play anything.”

Cut Common 

“There are many fine cellists, and then there is Steven Isserlis.”

The Australian 

“He can have the listener in perpetual wonder at the ingredients of his art…”

The Australian 

“Isserlis, of course, is a matchless virtuoso, so much so that it might seem redundant to discuss the transcendent way he played Beethoven‘s visionary score; it would be more to the point to note that his Olympian talent connected the audience directly with the mind and heart of Beethoven, in a kind of musical séance. [Beethoven Cello Sonata No.5]”

Cleveland.com 

“It would be pretty hard not to like Steven Isserlis: a superb musician, soloist, chamber player, teacher, author and radio broadcaster, he seems to excel at almost everything he does … there is no other living cellist quite as musical.”

Bachtrack 

“Isserlis…displayed some extraordinarily angelic playing “

The San Francisco Classical Voice 

“…he painted the meandering melody of the Largo in such magnificently mournful colors…”

The San Francisco Classical Voice 

“I don’t think you will ever hear a more spine-tingling performance. [Beethoven, Cello Sonatas CD]”

Presto Classical 

“The English virtuoso was as powerful on the fleetly fingered perpetual motion passages of the second movement as when summoning grief and resignation on the weighty finale. [Elgar, Cello Concerto]”

Ron Hubbard, Pioneer Press 

“…this was how the music ought to sound.”

Bachtrack 

“Isserlis’s playing is in many ways consummate: his technical mastery matched by an obvious love for the work.”

The Australian 

 

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Media

BBC Radio 3 "The Essay": The Protecting Veil by John Tavener

Cellist Steven Isserlis recalls the impact of this commission and his unfolding and lasting friendship with its composer. He remembers tentative first encounters; evenings in Indian restaurants with friends; the shared nerves of premiering the music; mixed reactions of audiences including a spectacular punch-up at a concert in the States and finally the hope that John is still sending messages to Steven from beyond the grave.

Producer: Rosie Boulton
A Must Try Softer Production

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