Get to know Steven Isserlis

Cellist Steven Isserlis in performance.

You gave the London premiere of Kabalevsky’s Cello Concerto No. 2 in 1981, and you were scheduled to perform the piece with Jakub Hrůša in 2020. What is your relationship with the piece?

I’ve loved this concerto since the very first time I heard it. It was written for my great hero Daniil Shafran, whose recording – with the composer conducting – I heard. I can’t understand why the Concerto isn’t performed more often. It has everything: thrilling colours and rhythms, beautiful melodies and instant appeal – a very special piece.
In January, you joined us on our first ever tour to Mauritius. How was that experience?
It was wonderful! The violinist Irène Duval (who also performed with the orchestra) and I got to stay at an amazing resort, which helped… but it was also exciting to witness the birth of something new, about which everybody seemed to be very thrilled.


What is it like working with Jakub Hrůša?

I’ve always enjoyed working with Jakub. He’s a serious, committed musician, who puts the music above his own ego – and he’s really good company too.


Do you have any pre-concert rituals, or traditions with your cello?

Several – including a cup of strong coffee half an hour before every concert – and listening to the Beatles shortly before I go on stage. Both activities wake me up!


You regularly share a variety of interesting facts and quotes about notable musicians, authors and artists on Twitter/X. What prompted this online tradition and how do you keep track?

I don’t know how it started! I think I quoted a few famous musicians, and people seemed to like it, so it gradually became a daily occurence. Actually, it’s quite time-consuming! I start by looking for notable people born on that day, and then (usually) find quotes; and if i’m not excited about anyone who’s been born on that day, I go to the people who’ve died then instead. A little less celebratory but the quotes are just as good.


What concert coming up in our London season would you most like to listen to, and why?

There are two young pianists who interest me, both playing Second Piano Concertos – Sunwook Kim in Brahms, and Alexandre Kantorow in Liszt. And I have several friends playing so if I’m around I’ll come and be a groupie.


Steven Isserlis joins us to play Kabalevsky’s Second Cello Concerto on Thursday 24 March.