Rohan de Saram
was born in Sheffield of Sinhalese parents. He began studying the cello at the age of 11 with Gaspar Cassado at the Academia Chigiana in Siena, Italy, At the age of 16, in 1955, he was honoured with the Suggia Award which enabled him to study with Pablo Casals in Puerto Rico and with Sir John Barbirolli in London. 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 such as John Barbirolli, Adrian Boult, Colin Davis, Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozawa & Malcolm Sargent. His debut appearance in the USA was with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at the Carnegie Hall at the invitation of Dmitri Mitropoulos. Among the composers he worked with at that time were Kodaly, Shostakovich, Poulenc & Walton. After a recital in America, Piatagorsky presented him with a special bow which he uses for concerts.
Rohan de Saram is also an outstanding interpreter of contemporary music, and has worked personally with many leading contemporary composers. 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 Ligeti, giving the world premiere of his solo cello sonata; with Pousseur, giving the world premiere of “Racine 19”, a work based on a 19-note scale and dedicated to him; and with 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 Quartet, for whom hundreds of new works were written and by whom hundreds of world premieres were given and many recordings made. Whilst with the Arditti Quartet, they were awarded the Siemens prize for their services to music 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 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.