Steven Isserlis Q&A

Steven Isserlis will be treating us to two performances of Schumann's Cello Concerto at Symphony Hall later this week - we caught up with him to talk about this incredible composition, the art of curating festivals, and ordering takeaways...

What advice would you give to any aspiring musicians in the audience?
Keep at it! If you love music enough, you should find your niche - whether it be as performer, teacher or amateur. The main thing is never to lose your love for music.

Can you tell us a little about Schumann’s cello concerto and what it means to you as a performer?
Schumann’s cello concerto was written at a happy time in his life, when he had just been appointed music director in Dusseldorf. To a certain extent, the work reflects that happiness, and his love for Clara; but as always with Schumann, the joy is vulnerable.

You’ve played a dizzying array of wonderful antique instruments across your career – can you tell us about the cello you’re performing the Schumann on?
I’ll be playing the wonderful Marquis de Corberon Stradivarius, kindly loaned to me by the royal academy of music in London. An aristocrat of a cello!

What do you think makes these original instruments so special?
Impossible to say; what makes the works of the great composers so special?

If you could invite any composer from history over for dinner, who would it be and what would you cook?
Probably Beethoven. I’d order takeaway - wouldn’t want to waste time trying to cook (not that I’d be any worse than he was!)

Steven Isserlis. Credit: Kevin Davis.
Steven Isserlis. Credit: Kevin Davis.

What are some of the challenges of performing as a concerto soloist compared to, say, in a quartet or solo recital setting?
It’s not so different; it’s all chamber music! One has to play a bit louder sometimes in a concerto, but it’s still a dialogue, requiring as much listening as singing/talking.

You’re well known for curating concert series for some of the world’s most famous venues and festivals – how important do you think the art of curation is in today’s increasingly saturated music industry?
Funny word! Sounds like ‘cured meat’ (what was wrong with it in the first place?)  I love to put together programmes; it’s like planning a dinner - all the ingredients have to mix well together. My former agent Jasper Parrott once told me that planning festivals and series would be a good way forward in my musical career - and he was quite right! It feels like a hobby to me, as well as part of my profession. 

As a widely acclaimed soloist who has performed all over the world, where is your favourite place to visit?
I suppose of all cities, I’d have to choose Sydney; I adore it! Of all places, probably magical Prussia Cove in Cornwall (where I am artistic director of the international musicians' seminar, so visit twice a year). But there are many places to which I love to go regularly - anywhere where I have friends, basically. 

Steven Isserlis will be performing Schumann's Cello Concerto at Symphony Hall, Birmingham on Wednesday 6 February (2.15pm) and Thursday 7 January (7.30pm).

More incredible music in February...