STEVEN ISSERLIS is a man of many parts – and, as a cello soloist, no stranger to Manchester.
He lives in London, has been awarded the CBE, and appears regularly with the world’s leading orchestras and conductors as well as giving solo recitals and playing in chamber music.
He’s also written books for children about the lives of the great composers – Why Beethoven Threw The Stew and its sequel, Why Handel Waggled His Wig – plus three musical stories for children: Little Red Violin, Goldiepegs And The Three Cellos, and Cindercella.
You may remember his glorious playing in the premiere of John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil at the BBC Proms in 1989 – or more recently (and nearer home) in Tavener’s The Death Of Ivan Ilyich, with the BBC Philharmonic in the Manchester International Festival of 2013, or in Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote with the BBC Phil and Juanjo Mena just two years ago.
On January 8 he’s back at the Bridgewater Hall, this time with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and its music director, Joshua Bell. They’re playing the Brahms concerto for violin, cello and orchestra. Steven will also play Dvořák’s Silent Woods with the orchestra, and Josh will play Elegy by Schumann – a rare item Steven ‘discovered’.
The two are old friends. “I’ve hardly ever done the Brahms ‘double’ with anyone else,” he says. “In fact we’ve been playing it together for 30 years. He’s like a younger brother.
“For me the concerto is a piece to celebrate friendship – you’ve got to actually like the person you’re playing it with.
“It was written as a kind of peace offering from Brahms to Josef Joachim, the great 19th century violinist, after a rift between them.
“I’m very much looking forward to the Elegy, too. It’s the slow movement of Schumann’s violin concerto, with a coda by Britten – first played in a memorial concert given by Menuhin and Britten for Dennis Brain, the horn player. Its theme is one that Schumann said he felt had been dictated to him by angels.”
Steven comes from an incredibly musical family. His mother and grandfather were pianists – the latter was once refused the tenancy of a flat in Vienna by a 102-year-old landlady, on the grounds that her aunt had had a bad experience with another musician as tenant, who made a noise and spat on the floor.
The badly behaved tenant was Beethoven.