Rohan De Saram

Rohan de Saram is one of the world’s most distinguished cellists. Born in Sheffield, UK, of Sinhalese parents, he began studying the cello at the age of nine with Martin Hohermann in Sri Lanka and aged twelve with Gaspar Cassado at the Academia Chigiana in Siena, Italy. Four years later in 1956, he became the first winner of the Guilhermina Suggia Award which enabled him to study with Pablo Casals in Puerto Rico and with Sir John Barbirolli in London. In the same year he was winner of the Royal Overseas League Music Competition in London and the following year was awarded the Harriet Cohen International Music Award. Casals said of him: “There are few of his generation that have such gifts”.    

    As a soloist he has played throughout Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada & the former Soviet Union with the major orchestras & leading conductors of the world including Sir John Barbirolli, Sir Adrian Boult, Sir Colin Davis, Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozawa & Sir Malcolm Sargent and William Steinberg. His debut appearance in the USA was in 1961 with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at the Carnegie Hall at the invitation of Dmitri Mitropoulos, who described him as “ a rare genius…..a born musician……an amazing… cellist……” Mitropoulos predeceased the event so it was under the baton of Stanislav Skrowaczewski that Rohan performed Khachaturian’s Cello Concerto with the New York Philharmonic.

     Among the composers Rohan met and worked with at that time were ZoltanKodaly, Dmitri Shostakovich, Francis Poulenc, Edmund Rubbra & Sir William Walton. His score of Kodaly’s  Sonata op. 8 for solo cello carries Kodaly’s hand-written praise for Rohan’s performance of this work in the presence of the composer in Oxford in May 1960.  His score of Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata carries  similar hand-written praise from the composer after Rohan gave a recital of his sonata on the occasion of Shostakovich’s visit to Oxford to receive an honorary degree in June 1958. After one of Rohan’s recitals in America, Piatagorsky presented him with a special bow which he uses for concerts.

     Rohan founded the de Saram Clarinet Trio with the clarinettist Angela Malsbury and pianist David Pettit, both of whom he met whilst living in Oxford. He also founded a duo with his pianist brother Druvi, giving tours in the former USSR, Italy, UK & Cuba. He was also a member of the ensemble “Dreamtiger”

     Rohan de Saram is also an outstanding interpreter of contemporary music and has worked personally with many leading contemporary composers. Iannis Xenakis was one of the first he worked with, giving the UK premiere of “Kottos” for solo cello. His performance of “Nomos Alpha” won him great praise from the composer who invited him to play it at the Xenakis Festival in Bonn. Later Xenakis wrote two works for him, “Epicycles” for cello & ensemble and “Roscobek” for cello & double bass. He has worked with Gyorgy Ligeti, giving the world premiere of his solo cello sonata; with Henri Pousseur, giving the world premiere of “Racine 19”, a work based on a 19-note scale and dedicated to him; and with Luciano Berio, giving the UK premiere of his work for cello and orchestra, “Il Ritorno degli Snovidenia”. After the performance, Berio wrote to Rohan: “Your performance of “Ritorno” is splendid, but besides “Ritorno”, your sound, your perfect intonation, your phrasing and bowing technique make you a great performer of any music”. As a result, Berio wrote “Sequenza XIV” for Rohan. This wonderful piece incorporates in a unique way the rhythms of the Kandyan drum of Sri Lanka, an instrument which Rohan has himself played since his childhood in Sri Lanka.

   For many years Rohan was cellist of the Arditti String Quartet. A large number of new works were written for and premiered and recorded by them. Among the many composers they worked personally with are Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Elliott Carter, James Dillon, Brian Ferneyhough, Jonathan Harvey, Helmut Lachnmann, Gyorgy Ligeti, Luigi Nono, Henri Pousseur, Wolfgang Rihm, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis. Further information about works written for the Arditti Quartet, and their discography, during the years Rohan was  their cellist (1977 – 2005) can be found on the Arditti Quartet website. Whilst with the Arditti Quartet, they were awarded the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize for lifetime achievement and a Grammy Award for their recording of works by Elliott Carter, including his Sonata for cello and piano and his work ‘Figment’ for solo cello.

   At the end of November 2005, Rohan left the Arditti  Quartet in order to work with other artists, composers and friends around the world, bringing together music from a range of musical periods, both eastern and western, classical and contemporary, composed and improvised. In addition to his concert recitals, he has students coming from different parts of the world particularly, but not only, to study some of the works written for him, as well as other works with which he is especially associated. He continues to teach and give master classes internationally. Many works have been written for him as soloist or in combination with other artists, thus enriching the cello repertoire considerably. In December 2004, Rohan was awarded an honorary D. Litt. from the University of  Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, and in December 2005, he was awarded the Deshamaniya, the national honour of Sri Lanka. His recently published book “Conversations” between Rohan and Joachim Steinheuer from Heidelberg University, has been described as “a treasure trove of musical jewels” and is available from the German publisher, and from Amazon.

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