The Profiler: Cellist Isabelle Brown-Lyden

The Profiler: Cellist Isabelle Brown-Lyden

Janice Worthen

Isabelle Brown-Lyden performs the Bach Prelude from the Bach G Major Cello Suite. Video courtesy of Marcie Brown.

As a two-time performer at Carnegie Hall, former honors soloist for the Colorado and Stanford Suzuki Institute, and second-place winner of the 2014 American Protégé Competition for Piano and Strings, Alameda cellist Isabelle Brown-Lyden has the resume of a professional – and she’s just 12 years old.

Brown-Lyden started playing when she was 4 and performing when she was 5. Her mother, Marcie Brown, is also an accomplished cellist who holds a master’s degree in classical cello from the Manhattan School of Music and has performed with such legends as Andrea Bocelli, Luciano Pavarotti, Itzhak Perlman, and Ray Charles.

Brown has produced multiple albums, performed with many symphonies and groups and played for the Cirque du Soleil for two years, completing 10 shows a week in Las Vegas. She introduced her daughter to the cello early because she herself wasn’t able to start learning until she was 8 years old and often felt like she was behind.

“Isabelle was very quiet when she was young,” said Brown, who said that music was something she could pass on to her daughter that would add meaning to her life. “I thought music could be a way for her to speak.”

Brown-Lyden said she spends about eight hours a week playing and practices five days a week; she said the cello is easy for her. Brown confirmed that the instrument never seemed hard for Brown-Lyden; she just went and played.

Brown-Lyden has placed in the American Protégé Competition for three years in a row now, placing fourth in 2012, third in 2013, and second this year. For each of these accomplishments, she was able to perform in New York, twice in Carnegie Hall. This year, she played the Preludefrom Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major.

In a venue that can test the nerves of even the most seasoned musician, Brown-Lyden played with confidence. She said that the environment of Carnegie Hall was new and strange, and she felt a lot of pressure to do well, but she wasn’t really nervous. She said she’s never really experienced stage fright; she enjoys being able to experience the audience’s reaction once she has finished playing.

Brown-Lyden said the opportunity to perform for people is one of her favorite things about playing the cello. Her least favorite is paying attention to all the little things, such as finger positions, which produce the best sound. Fortunately, Brown said, her daughter has perfect pitch. Brown-Lyden said that it’s nice to have her mother present whenever she has a question about playing.

Brown tutors her daughter most days when their schedules allow, and Brown-Lyden receives instruction weekly from Andy Luchansky. Brown-Lyden said she also performs a lot, sometimes as part of her mother’s biannual recitals for her Alameda Cello Academy and sometimes for special events to groups like senior citizens. Brown-Lyden also performs as a member of the music group The Flaming Strings.

Although Brown-Lyden hopes to continue playing the cello and giving performances as an adult, she said she doesn’t want a career in it at this point. After being introduced to programming at school, Brown-Lyden said she would like to work for Google or Pixar, not only for the interesting work but the unique work environment they provide their employees.

When Brown-Lyden isn’t playing cello, she is busy being an active 12-year old. She’s currently a sixth grader at Alameda Community Learning Center as well as a Girl Scout who attends both weekend and summer camps. She also skates at the Oakland Ice Arena, where she competes from time to time, but she said this skating is second to her music. She said she prefers skating to other sports because women have a strong presence in the sport, and it provides good exercise while still being a form of art. Brown-Lyden also enjoys art and spending time with her dog, Biscuit.

Brown said both she and her daughter live busy but fulfilling lives. Brown opened a music academy in Alameda in 2006; when she’s not working on her own music, she’s teaching others to play the cello, the piano, and the violin. Brown said that it’s important to share something you’re good at anywhere you can with whoever wants to learn.

“Music is expression for me,” Brown said.

One of the things Brown has most enjoyed about music is mixing with other cultures and experiencing other people’s forms of expression. She also enjoys producing new albums, especially when she is able to work with other musicians during the process.

Brown-Lyden will be performing at the Alameda Cello Academy’s upcoming recital at the Piedmont Piano Company at 6 p.m. June 5. Piedmont Piano Company is at 1728 San Pablo Avenue in Oakland.

Brown’s albums are available on her website, and can also be purchased on Amazon.


Submitted by Ken Harrison (not verified) on Mon, May 19, 2014

Wow! If I had only been able to play so well at age 12. (OTOH, these pieces sound so much better on the viola.)-: Just kidding, and revealing my stringed instrument preference of many professional years.

One hopes she will soon be endowed with a really fine instrument and bow, and that her career will continue to grow.

Submitted by Robert Cassard (not verified) on Tue, May 20, 2014

As a guitarist, I've always loved the Bach Cello Suites, partly because that translate smoothly to the classical guitar. Hearing 12-year-old Isabelle play a cello piece this challenging with such confidence and precision brought a huge smile to my face. It probably matched the smile and look of pride on HER face when she wrapped up the piece so perfectly. Bravo Isabelle!

Submitted by Marcie, her mom (not verified) on Wed, May 21, 2014

Thanks for that Robert- I will pass it on to Isabelle. I love the Bach Cello Suites on the guitar beautiful. In fact, I am
going to go get a recording and listen now... :-)