Sad news: Death of an international cellist

Sad news: Death of an international cellist


norman lebrecht

February 01, 2014

We have been informed of the death, from cancer, of the leading Russian cellist, Alexander Ivashkin. Sasha was 65 and active to the last as a performer and teacher. He gave more than 50 world premieres and wrote around 20 books.

Living in London for the past quarter-century, Sasha recorded for Chandos, BMG, Naxos and Brilliant the complete cello music by Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Roslavets, Tcherepnine, Gubaidulina, Schnittke and Kancheli. His latest recording contains the world premiere of early pieces by Benjamin Britten.

ivashkin book


I got to know Sasha in the early 1990s while commissioning a series of 20th century composer biographies for Phaidon. He was living in New Zealand, on the other side of the clock, and much of our communication was by overnight fax. But we struck up a swift and easy rapport and worked together with mutual pleasure. His book on Alfred Schnittke, published in 1996, was the first to appear in any language outside Russia. It remains a treasure trove of exclusive information.



Sasha was close to Schnittke and remained friendly with his widow, Irina. A favourite student of Mstislav Rostropovich, he seemed to know everyone in Russian music. He taught at Goldsmiths College, organised festivals all over the world and lived to the full a life that was cut far too short.

I am deeply saddened by the loss of a brilliant performer, restless activist and good friend. My heart goes out to his widow, Natasha.

ivashkin schnittke

UPDATE: first tributes here and here.



  • Among the (many!) recordings you don’t mention, Norman, are the two he did for my label, Toccata Classics, of Schnittke and Korndorf (including, indeed, the Concerto capriccioso of which you feature a YouTube video). I’ve posted a tribute to Sasha on my new blog, at

  • Prof. Dong-Oo Lee says:

    So sad to hear another brilliant artist and scholar is gone much to soon.

  • We shall cherish the memory of attending “Seeking the soul: the music of Alfred Schnittke” at the Barbican in January 2001 that Alexander Ivashkin organised. Thank you dear Alexander for all you did to bring Schnittke’s music to audiences!

  • RIP Alexander. Fondly remember performing Prokofiev together with the Cape Phil.

  • Matthew McFarlane says:

    I was speaking about Mr. Ivashkin on Saturday night in Vancouver, BC. Before a VSO concert that featured music by Korndorf. I mentioned his new recording of Korndorf’s music, and how wonderful it was. Rest in Peace. A great champion of the cello and Russian music.

  • Svetlana says:

    Another insightful book on Schnittke, edited by Ivashkin is “A Schnittke Reader”, brings various articles by the composer and extracts of his own conversation with Ivashkin from 1985 to 1994 finally translated into English.

  • ed says:

    Also visit Mr. Ivashkin’s website at:

    for links to his playing and diverse repertoire, including a magnificent recording of the 1st movement of the Shostakovich Cello Concerto #1, plus important biographical information. For someone on this side of the ocean not previously exposed to his work, it was an eyeopener and a welcome earful.

  • timwalton3 says:

    Sad news indeed.

    I was lucky enough to hear him play the Miaskovsky Concerto in Symphony Hall (Birmingham) in 2002.

    I also got a photograph signed after the performance.

  • Bruce Carlson says:

    Sasha was a marvellous musician with an enthusiasm for his art that is rare. How he found the time to do so much is to me truly amazing! I feel above all privileged that his performances and promotion of contemporary composers he entrusted to the cello I made for him back in 1993. I was so surprised when he chose it and honoured that it became his favourite instrument for contemporary works. When he sent me his CD of the Complete Music for Cello and Piano of Prokofiev played on my cello it was clear that they were getting to know each other very well! The first of many CDs he was kind and thoughtful to send.

    Sasha was loved by many and will be sorely missed by everyone who knew him or was touched by his wonderful music making.