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The brilliant British cellist is known for premiering contemporary classics, writing children's books - and his hair.
Steven Isserlis was born in London on 19 December 1958 into a musical family. His grandfather was one of 12 musicians allowed to leave Russia in the 1920s to promote Russian culture - but he never returned. Steven’s mother was a piano teacher, one of his sisters plays viola, and the other is a violinist. He says playing music together was an integral part of his early family life.
Isserlis was very influenced by the great Russian cellist, Daniil Shafran - pictured. ‘He was incapable of playing one note insincerely; his music spoke from the soul,’ says Isserlis.
Isserlis dubs his mop of curly hair his 'natural umbrella.' 'I did cut it once and hated it,' he once said. 'I was brought up with the Beatles from the age of four. Long hair meant happiness.”
Isserlis has written two books for children about great composers. 'Why Beethoven Threw the Stew' and 'Why Handel Waggled his Wig' have been translated into many languages. The cellist has also written three stories that have been set to music by Oscar-winning composer Anne Dudley: Little Red Violin (and the Big, Bad Cello), Goldipegs and the Three Cellos, and Cindercella.
Isserlis is a huge fan of the Marx Brothers, especially Harpo. He was thrilled when he met Harpo’s eldest son in Los Angeles who allowed the cellist to try on Harpo’s coat. ‘That was one of the great days of my life,’ Isserlis said.
Isserlis plays the De Munck Stradivarius, which is on loan from The Nippon Music Foundation. 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.
Among Isserlis’ pet hates are liver, kidney, caviar and tinned tuna; the music of Delius; jet-lag; and airlines that give him a hard time about his cello.
Isserlis has worked with many composers on new commissions. In 1989, he gave the world premiere of the haunting The Protecting Veil by John Tavener - pictured.
The cellist gives frequent masterclasses around the world, and for the past 13 years he has been Artistic Director of the International Musicians’ Seminar at Prussia Cove in Cornwall. He has also organized a number of festivals, including some with actors Barry Humphries and Simon Callow.
The recipient of many honours, Steven Isserlis was awarded a CBE in 1998 in recognition of his services to music. His recording of Bach's Solo Cello Suites has won many awards, including 'Critic’s Choice' at the 2008 Classic BRIT Awards.