The English cellist and music pedagogue, Susan Sheppard, was born in London but lived in Bath for 8 years. She started to
play cello when she was 11 and 6 years later, in 1965, entered the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) to study with Derek Simpson. She later took lessons from André Navarra. Her education was focused narrowly on music, a course that Sheppard appreciated at that time. Since, however, she regretted not attending university and pursues a classical degree at the University of London. In 2004, after four years of translating Latin on planes and learning Greek verbs on the tube, she was awarded a first class honours degree in Classics from Birkbeck College, University of London. She graduated from RAM in 1969 and, like most cellists at that
point, has not heard of Baroque cello. She remembers later telling her first cello teacher about Baroque cello; the woman thought she was joking. Sheppard recalls: “It has never occurred to her that the cello might have ever been different.”
Susan Sheppard met John Holloway (her husband for a time), the noted Baroque violinist. She began to investigate the Baroque cello in the mid-1970’s. As a modern cellist, she played with the Philharmonia Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. She took several lessons from Anthony Pleeth and an early music course with the Kuijken brothers, but is mostly self-taught. She remembers: “ It was very difficult actually to find anybody to learn from.” She considered studying with Anner Bylsma at The Hague, but he would not teach just Baroque cello. Since starting the Baroque cello in her mid-twentieths, Sheppard has played it almost exclusively.
From the beginning, Susan Sheppard worked with fine Baroque musicians, including in L’École d’Orphée with John Holloway, flautist Stephen Preston, and harpsichordist John Toll, who died in 2001 but was one of her favourite continuo keyboardists. The recorded George Frideric Handel’s complete chamber music, which includes many wonderful continuo parts, especially the flute and recorder sonatas. Sheppard remembers recording the complete flute sonatas with Stephen Preston in the 1970’s and being told for several days to play more softly. She relished the challenge of bringing variety to the continuo line in such a low dynamic level.
Susan Sheppard became soon one of the UK's busiest performers on period instruments When she began her career as an orchestral cellist, there were perhaps three or four Baroque cellists in London. She was an early member of the Academy of Ancient Music, with whom she played principal cello until 1997 (13 years). Her first major recording with Christopher Hogwood was Antonio Vivaldi’s L’Estro armonico (12 concertos for 1, 2, 3 & 4 solo violinists). The solo violinists were John Holloway, Monica Huggett, Catherine Mackintosh, and Elizabeth Wilcock. They toured with the repertoire in the USA, Italy and Warsaw, reaching the last venue just when Solidarity changed the Polish political map. The only cellist in the tour, Sheppard heard from an audience member that she was the first Baroque cellist in Poland since the 18th century. She also played most of Christopher Hogwood’s complete cycle of L.v. Beethoven’s symphonies and many releases in the cycle of W.A. Mozart’s piano concertos with Robert Levin.
Another group that
Susan Sheppard played with was Kent Opera, led by Roger Norrington, including period instrument productions of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and Il ritorno d’Ullisse in Patria. They did L’Orfeo in London, Bath and at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. The orchestra spent enthralling performances accompanying the singers in chamber music. She later played principal cello in Roger Norrington‘s London Classical Players (10 years) and recorded with them L.v. Beethoven’s symphonies and other projects. In addition to her extensive work with various London groups in the 1980’s, Sheppard played with William Christie‘s Les Arts Florissants in Paris for Lully’s Atys, with the Cappella Coloniensis (the Westdeutsch Rundfunk Baroque Orchestra) directed by Hans-Martin Linde, and Sigiswald Kuijken’s La Petite Bande.
Susan Sheppard played principal cello for 13 years with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE), of which she is a founder member in 1986. Sheppard and her colleagues yearned for an orchestra run by musicians and able to play with a variety of directors. Conductors with whom Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment works regularly have included Sir Simon Rattle, Sir Charles Mackerras, Charles Mackerras, Roger Norrington, Gustav Leonhardt, Mark Elder and others. With Gustav Leonhardt she recorded J.S. Bach’s Easter Oratorio (BWV 249) and Ascension Oratorio (BWV 11) for Philips, an excellent example of Sheppard’s continuo playing. She still plays with the latter group, although not as a principal cello. She has given concerts in many parts of the world.
Susan Sheppard has become one of London’s major teachers of Baroque cello as well, working on both Guildhall School of music and Trinity College of Music. In 2000 she was artist in residence at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, for the 250th anniversary of J.S. Bach's death.
Susan Sheppard recorded the complete chamber music of G.F. Handel with the ensemble L’École d’Orphée and made the first period instrument recording of all nine Antonio Vivaldi cello sonatas, for CRD records. Her profound interest in the work of J.S. Bach resulted in 1999 in a highly acclaimed recording of the Six Solo Cello Suites (BWV 1007-1012) on CD for Metronome. She was one of the first female cellists to issue a complete recording of these Suites.