From contemporary masters like Yo-Yo Ma to younger artists like Alisa Weilerstein, we have assembled a list of some of the best contemporary cellists that you can start listening to right away. You may also take a look at our recent post if you want to put into practice some of what you’ll learn from the artists on this list.
Yo-Yo Ma is one of the most well-known and respected cellists in the world, and since 1961, this acclaimed songwriter and cellist has produced dozens of albums and won countless awards, 18 of which are Grammy Awards.
He was born on October 7th, 1955, in Paris, France. His love for the cello started at a very young age, and he attended the Juilliard School, where his passion for music continued throughout his adult life.
Most of Ma’s albums feature recordings of cello concertos, including names such as Haydn, Brahms, and Shostakovich, as well as Bach’s cello suites, sonatas for cello, piano, and a variety of chamber music. He also had collaborations with other known artists such as Carlos Santana, Bobby McFerrin, James Taylor, and Chris Botti.
His career now spans over five decades, and in this time, Ma has established himself as an artist of extraordinary technical gifts. He is known for his rich and smooth tone, and his virtuosity. His primary instrument is the “Petunia”, a cello built by Domenico Montagnana in 1733, and that is currently valued at more than $2,500,000.
Since 1998 Yo-Yo Ma has started to devote most of his attention to the Silk Road Project that seeks to celebrate and explore the music of Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.
Steven Isserlis is a British cellist that is known worldwide for his technical mastery and his profound musical knowledge. He was born on December 19th, 1958, into a family with a long musical history. His mother was a piano teacher, and one of his sisters played the violin while the other the viola. He often said that music played a very integral part of his family life.
His grandfather was Russian, and Steven was influenced by Daniil Shafran, who was one of the greatest Russian cellists. Just as Daniil, Steven has always played his notes sincerely, and his music evokes a lot of feelings since he always speaks from the soul.
Since 1997 he has been the Artistic Director of The International Musicians Seminar at Prussia Cove in Cornwall and has organized a large number of music festivals. He also gives frequent masterclasses around the world.
His interests are diverse since he is also a children’s author and has written three stories that have been set to music by no other than Anne Dudley, the legendary Oscar-winning composer.
He has a vast collection of priceless instruments such as the De Munck Stradivarius, a Guadagnini cello from 1745 that he played exclusively from 1979 to 1998, and a Montagnana cello from 1740.
Mischa Maisky is the only cello player in the world to have studied with both Gregor Piatigorsky and Mstislav Rostropovich, two artists who were regarded as the best cellists of their generation. Rostropovich has described Maisky’s playing style as a combination of poetry and exquisite delicateness with brilliant technique and great temperament.
Maisky was born in Latvia, and he received his first music lesson at the Children’s Music School and Conservatory in Riga, Latvia. His debut with the Leningrad Philharmonic in 1965 has earned him the nickname of “Rostropovich of the Future”.
During the last 30 years, he has made over 35 recordings with orchestras all around the world, such as the London Symphony, Orpheus und Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Orchestre de Paris, Vienna Philharmonic, and many others.
His recordings have won numerous awards and have enjoyed worldwide appreciation from both critics and fans alike. Mischa Maisky is a world-class musician that has collaborated with some of the best names in the industry.
The year 2000 was one of the best years of Maisky’s career since he devoted himself completely to a world-wide Bach tour that included over one hundred concerts. The “Bach Marathon” in Zurich had Maisky playing the entirety of Bach’s works for cello in one day, in a total of three separate concerts.
Born on April 18th,1982, in Rochester, New York, Alisa Weilerstein is one of the youngest artists on this list, yet her presence here is just as deserving. Her performances are emotionally resonant, whether she’s performing traditional pieces or contemporary music. This has helped her earn international recognition and a huge fan following.
She is the recipient of the Leonard Bernstein prize and the MacArthur Genius Grant. Even at this young age, Weilerstein has already appeared with all the foremost orchestras of both the US and Europe and has collaborated with the best conductors in the world.
In 2010 she performed an emotional account of Elgar’s concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic and Daniel Barenboim, an event that was televised to an audience of millions and later released on DVD. It is one of the major milestones of her career that is bound to span many more years.
For people who worry that there won’t be anyone left to carry the torch for cellists, Alisa Weilerstein is one of the promising young artists that is bound to shape the world of contemporary music for the foreseeable future.
Zoë Keating was born on February 2nd, 1972, in Ontario, Canada, and she’s an accomplished cellist, composer, and performer. Her love of music began at the age of eight when she first got her eyes on the cello. She is known for her use of technology in her pieces since she often uses a computer to live-layer her cello performance.
The same is true for her albums since Keating employs complex electronic looping techniques to create a multi-layered cello sound. She has a signature looping style that consists of layering up melodic fragments until a unique and huge sound is created.
She also relies on technology when it comes to releasing her music. Instead of using a record label, she releases her works independently on her website. It is safe to say that Zoë Keating is not a conventional artist.
As a composer, you can hear some of her works on acclaimed series such as A&E’s “The Returned” and WGN’s “Manhattan”, where she composed the score along with Jeff Russo. Some of her music can also be found in the Oscar-nominated film “Warrior”.
Zoë Keating has dazzled critics and fans alike, seeing as she is the winner of multiple awards, including the Independent Music Award for her “Into the Trees” album, and has a large following of over one million on social media.
Born on May 25th, 1982, Michael Glen Block is an American cello player, composer, singer, and educator that has been hailed by none other than Yo-Yo Ma as the “ideal musician of the 21st-Century.” As an artist, Block is committed to inspire individuals and connect communities, and since 2005 he is a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble.
Block is praised for his rich-hued solo performances that offer a rich mixture of a core classical repertoire that’s combined with original compositions. He has collaborated with a diverse list of musicians that includes names such as Stevie Wonder, Will.i.am, Edgar Meyer, Zakir Hussain, The New York Philharmonic, and many others.
All of his albums have debuted consistently near the top of the Billboard charts for styles that include Classical, Classical Crossover, World Music, and Bluegrass. Mike is very passionate about collaboration and creativity and was among the first cello players to adopt a strap that allows him to stand and move when playing.
Jean-Guihen Queyras is a French cellist born on March 11th, 1967, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. His music and artistic approach are characterized by curiosity, diversity, and a firm focus on the music itself. Queyras learned his craft from Pierre Boulez, the renowned French composer and conductor.
Whether on stage or record, Jean-Guihen Queyras’ approach to every performance is to focus on a clear and engaging tone that allows the performer and the audience to be in tune with one another.
His music-making capabilities are also very versatile since he juggles different genres with great ease, and this has allowed Queyras to lead many concerts, orchestras, and festivals.