Genoese concert programme autographed by Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen
|Born||19 December 1958|
Isserlis was born in London on 19 December 1958 into a musical family. His grandfather, Julius Isserlis, 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. 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. 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.
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. From 1976 to 1978 Isserlis studied at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music with Richard Kapuscinski. Ever since his youth Daniil Shafran has been his cello hero, 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."
The name 'Isserlis' is one of many European variations of the Hebrew name 'Israel'.
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 Dvo?ák'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 Dvo?ák 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. 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 Marquis de Corberon cello on loan from the Royal Academy of Music. 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. His De Munck Stradivarius was returned to the Nippon Music Foundation in May 2011. 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 and Simon Callow. 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. For Hyperion Records, 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, and "Critic's Choice" at the 2008 Classical Brits. Other releases include two recordings with Stephen Hough: the Brahms sonatas, coupled with works by Dvo?ák 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'. Recent releases included a disc in 2013 of the Dvorak Cello Concerto with the Daniel Harding and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra on Hyperion and Martinu's complete cello sonatas along with a cello sonata by Olli Mustonen and Malinconia by Sibelius with the pianist/composer Olli Mustonen on the BIS label in 2014 which received a Grammy nomination.
In 2017, his recording of Haydn's Cello Concertos was nominated for a Grammy Award.
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 sheetmusicnow.com. In September 2016, his book targeted towards young musicians Robert Schumann's Advice to Young Musicians Revisited by Steven Isserlis was published by Faber & Faber.
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. He was awarded the 2000 Robert Schumann Prize of the City of Zwickau.
His wife Pauline Mara, a flautist, died of cancer in June 2010.