Steven Isserlis: I would never judge a performer who takes drugs

Steven Isserlis: I would never judge a performer who takes drugs


norman lebrecht

September 01, 2016

If the career becomes more important than the music…. it empties your soul he says.

The international cellist takes on the thorny issue of artists who cannot go on stage without chemical assistance. ‘I never took drugs,’ he says, ‘perhaps because I knew someone who died of them.’

He discusses brutal teachers, including Sandor Vegh who emptied a beer jug on his head.

Steven believes music should be approached as both religion and science. ‘You are serving a higher force,’ he reflects.

But, he adds, ‘Beethoven always makes me laugh. There’s a lot of humour in most great music.’

Steven is totally himself as the latest subject in Zsolt Bognar’s Living the Classical Life.


  • Charles Aitken says:

    The way Steven Isserlis speaks reminds me of the way Rowan William speaks.

  • Hilary says:

    “Sandor Vegh who emptied a beer jug on his head”
    Hungary was very much bullied from an historical point of view which may explain the tough conduct of some musicians from that country :Reiner,Szell,Kurtag….doubtlessley a few more.
    It also explains the country’s stance on refugees to a certain extent.

    • Daniel F. says:

      Actually, according to the interview, it was a “glass” of beer. And later in the interview, he claims that Vegh was a wonderful and valuable teacher for him, in spite of his not being a very nice person.

  • Esfir Ross says:

    And what about Solti,Ormandi, Koscitz-also tough Hungarian?

    • Daniel F. says:

      So what about Ivan Fischer, Adam Fischer, and Andras Schiff: maybe NOT so “tough”—the next generation is perhaps “correcting” without losing, in any way, a very principled attitude toward the making of music.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    Steven is fabulous, and Zsolt is brilliant in his work with today’s fine artists. Fantastic website! Yes, I am sure many artists have interesting tales of their studies. The old school was quite different, I believe.

  • Marcelo Mendes says:

    Always a joy to read what Steven Isserlis has to say, and most of all, hear him play.

  • Susan M. says:

    I enjoyed this interview very much, as it revealed a personal and relaxed side of Mr Isserlis that we are privileged to see. The interviewer asked sensitive and thoughtful questions and is a very good listener. Thank you!

  • Sue says:

    I especially love his comment about Beethoven. Oh yes!!