As a concerto soloist he appears regularly with the world’s leading orchestras and conductors, with recent engagements including: the Berlin Philharmonic and Alan Gilbert, the Philharmonic Orchestra and András Schiff, The Cleveland Orchestra with Ton Koopman and the NHK Orchestra under Tadaadi Otaka. He gives recitals every season in major musical centres, with pianists such as Stephen Hough, Olli Mustonen, Jeremy Denk, Kirill Gerstein and Dénes Várjon, and, unusually, directs Chamber concerts from the cello.
As a chamber musician and recitalist he has devised and performed in programmes at many of the world’s most famous festivals and venues, including most recently the Wigmore Hall, the 92nd St Y in New York, and the festivals of Salzburg and Verbier. These specially devised programmes have included explorations of Czech music, the teacher-pupil line of Saint-Saens, Faure and Ravel, the affinity of the cello and the human voice, varied aspects of Robert Schumann’s life and music, the music of Serge Taneyev (Tchaikovsky’s beloved pupil, who in turn taught Steven’s grandfather, Julius Isserlis) and his upcoming series at the Wigmore Hall entitled ‘In the Shadow of War’ (also the title of his latest disc for BIS). For these Steven is joined by a regular group of friends who include the violinists Joshua Bell, Pamela Frank and Janine Jansen and violist Tabea Zimmermann.
Steven takes a strong interest in authentic performance and has played with many of the foremost period instrument orchestras. He is also a keen exponent of contemporary music, and has worked with many composers on new works, including John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil, Wolfgang Rihm’s Cello Concerto in One Movement, Thomas Adès’s Lieux retrouvés for cello and piano, Stephen Hough’s Sonata for cello and piano left-hand, and works for solo cello by György Kurtág.
Writing and playing for children is another major interest. 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. He has also written three musical stories for children, with music by Anne Dudley. As an educator Steven Isserlis gives frequent masterclasses all around the world, and for the past sixteen years he has been Artistic Director of the International Musicians’ Seminar at Prussia Cove in Cornwall.
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 Disc of the Year and Critic’s Choice at the Classical Brits. Other recent releases include an all-Schumann disc for Hyperion, reVisions, a recording of works for cello and chamber orchestra for BIS; a recital disc for Hyperion with Thomas Adès, including the premier recording of the aforementioned Lieux retrouvés; and a CD of the Dvorak Cello Concerto with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Daniel Harding. Forthcoming releases include a recording of the complete works for cello by Beethoven with Robert Levin on fortepiano for the Hyperion label which is to be released in early 2014.
The recipient of many honours, Steven Isserlis was awarded a CBE in 1998 in recognition of his services to music, and in 2000 he received the Schumann Prize of the City of Zwickau. In 2013, Steven was one of only two living cellists to be inducted into 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.