The American cellist and music pedagogue, Ralph Henry Kirshbaum, was born in Denton, Texas, and grew up in Tyler. His father, Joseph Kirshbaum, was a professional violinist, music educator, and conductor who founded the East Texas Symphony Orchestra; his mother, Gertrude Morris Kirshbaum, was a harpist. His brothers and sisters were a violinist, a violist, and a pianist. Ralph decided on cello and had his first lessons on the instrument from his father at age 6. He he continued with Dallas teachers Roberta Guastafeste at 11 and Lev Aronson at 14. He won numerous awards as a student and appeared as a soloist with the Dallas Symphony at age 15. He continued his education at the Yale University School of Music, where he studied with Aldo Parisot. He graduated Yale magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with highest departmental honors. In 1968 he earned a Fulbright fellowship, but Selective Service registration issues prevented him from using it. Kirshbaum attracted international attention when he won prizes in the First International Cassadó Competition in Florence, Italy, in 1969, and subsequently in the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1970.
Ralph Kirshbaum made his London debut recital at Wigmore Hall in 1970, his professional orchestral debut (performing Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations with the New Philharmonia Orchestra of London) in 1972, and his New York debut at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1976. Kirshbaum is an artist recognized by critics and audiences worldwide for his deeply felt interpretations, musical intelligence, and passionate performances. With repertoire ranging from Haydn to Dmitri Shostakovich, J.S. Bach to Korngold, he is consistently recognized for a unique and lustrous sound. His distinguished career encompasses the worlds of solo performance, chamber music, recording, and pedagogy and clearly places him "in the highest echelon of today's cellists" (Los Angeles Times).
In the span of an extraordinary career, Ralph Kirshbaum has appeared with many of the world's foremost orchestras in North America, Europe, Australia, South Africa and the Far East. He has been a frequent guest of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Houston Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in the USA. In the UK he has appeared with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, New Philharmonia Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, and Hallé Orchestra; and in other countries with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic, Zürich Tonhalle, Orchestre de Paris, Radio-Symphonie-Orchester-Berlin, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and many others. Regular tours in Holland, Germany, Spain and Scandinavia have included numerous recital and orchestral appearances, in repertoire ranging from Haydn and Dvorak to Prokofiev and Lutoslawski. He has enjoyed collaborations with such esteemed conductors as Herbert Blomstedt, Semyon Bychkov, Christoph von Dohnányi, Sir Colin Davis, Andrew Davis, James Levine, Zubin Mehta, Kurt Masur, Andre Previn, Sir Simon Rattle and the late Sir Georg Solti.
Ralph Kirshbaum is a regular guest at prominent international festivals such as Edinburgh, Bath, Verbier, Lucerne, Ravinia, Aspen, La Jolla, Santa Fe, Music@Menlo and New York's Mostly Mozart. He is the founder and Artistic Director of the Manchester International Cello Festival, which was held at the Royal Northern College of Music, where he currently teaches.
His active chamber music schedule regularly includes projects with long-time colleagues and friends. In addition to frequent string trio tours with violinist Robert McDuffie and violist Lawrence Dutton, he enjoys collaborations with pianists Peter Frankl, Shai Wosner, Peter Jablonski, Garrick Ohlsson, Boris Berman and Benjamin Hochman, as well as with György Pauk, Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham, the Juilliard String Quartet, the Tokyo String Quartet, and others. In particular, his longtime trio collaboration with Frankl and Pauk has generated a large number of concerts and recordings. The BBC commissioned Fourteen Little Pictures by James MacMillan to mark their 25th anniversary in 1997. In recent years he has performed with illustrious colleagues including Pinchas Zukerman, Midori, Joshua Bell, Vadim Repin, Lang Lang, Leif Ove Andsnes, and Yefim Bronfman. Recently he performed with the Emerson String Quartet at Wigmore Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, preceding concerts in Zürich, Munich, Essen and Milan.
In 2011-2012 season, Ralph Kirshbaum performed in recitals in New York and London and appeared with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and the orchestras of Spokane, Albany, and Southwest Florida. In honor of the legendary cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, Kirshbaum led the inaugural Piatigorsky International Cello Festival in Los Angeles in March 2012. This celebration was built on the model of the Manchester Festival he founded in 1988 and directed through to the final festival in 2007 with performances, master-classes, and interactive events. The Los Angeles festival was a unique ten day event which celebrated the cello, its music, and its musicians and garnered extraordinary critical coverage throughout the world. Presented by the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in partnership with the Colburn School and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the festival was led by "Kirshbaum's tireless spirit" (The Wall Street Journal).
Ralph Kirshbaum begins season 2012-2013 season on a tour with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Perth with the Samuel Barber’s Concerto. He then returns to the USA for performances of the Haydn’s D Major Concerto with the San Diego Symphony and Jahja Ling. In October, the Hyperion label will release a recording of the Schubert quintet with Kirshbaum and the celebrated Takács String Quartet. Kirshbaum will join the quartet on a tour to include London's Wigmore Hall in May. The season will also include teaching residencies in Manchester and Prussia Cove.
Alongside his solo career, Ralph Kirshbaum is a renowned pedagogue who has influenced generations of young cellists as a committed and impassioned mentor. He served on the faculty of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester for 35 years and remains International Chair of Cello. In the fall of 2008, he assumed the the Gregor Endowed Chair in Violoncello at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music in Los Angeles. He becomes only the fourth person to hold the position after Piatigorsky himself; the other three are Lynn Harrell (1986-1993), Ronald Leonard (1993-2003), and Eleonore Schoenfeld (2004-2007). He participates annually in seminars at Prussia Cove, where he is Artistic Advisor, and the London Masterclasses, and is sought after for master classes throughout the world.
Bach has long been an integral part of Ralph Kirshbaum's repertoire, with complete cycles of the Six Cello Suites (BWV 1007-1012) performed around the world. His critically acclaimed recording for EMI/Virgin Classics remains one of the finest available. His many discs have included Gramophone Magazine's Record of the Year world premiere recording of Tippett's Triple Concerto for Philips, Edward Elgar and William Walton Concertos for Chandos, the Ravel, Dmitri Shostakovich and Johannes Brahms Trios for EMI, and Samuel Barber’s Concerto and Sonata for EMI/Virgin Classics. Also noteworthy is his recording of the J. Brahms’ Double and L.v. Beethoven’s Triple Concertos for BMG Classics with Pinchas Zukerman, John Browning and the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christoph Eschenbach. Of his recording of William Walton's Concerto, the composer himself wrote "It is most heartening to hear a performance in which everything is just right - it is excellent and moving."
Now residing in Los Angeles, Ralph Kirshbaum enjoys a great love of American football, tennis, and Texan food. His honors include the 2008 Music Award for Concert Series and Festivals at the Gala of the Royal Philharmonic Society - England's most prestigious award for live classical music. He is honorary president of the London Cello Society, and recently served for five years on the US President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. He has written about music and musicians for a number of journals and periodicals, most recently appreciations of Jacqueline du Pre for The Guardian in London and of his beloved teacher Aldo Parisot for The New York Times. Kirshbaum’s cello was crafted in 1729 by the Italian maker Domenico Montagnana. This rare cello once belonged to the 19th-century virtuoso, Piatti. Ralph Kirshbaum and his wife, Antoinette, have one son, Alex, who studied music at the Rimon Music School in Israel.