Biography

Isabel Villanueva © José Veira

Hailed by The Strad as ‘an artist who risks’ and described by Pizzicato Magazine as ‘a sensitive artist who knows how to immerse in the depths of music’, her passion for promoting the viola combined with her charismatic and expressive performances and her beauty of sound, connect immediatly with audiences and make Isabel Villanueva one of the most valued and complete violists of today. Ms. Villanueva has developed a global career performing in more than 25 countries through Europe, Russia, China, Latinamerica and Middle East. 

At age 18 she performed Bartók Viola Concerto with the Radio Television Spanish Symphony Orchestra broadcasted for TVE, she has been since then regularly invited as a soloist with orchestras including Moscow Soloists (Mozart), Estonia National Symphony Orchestra (Gubaidulina & Olivero), Zagreb Soloists (Paganini & Weber), Lebanon Philharmonic Orchestra (Khoury), Orquesta Filarmónica de Jalisco (Berlioz), Nuevo León Symphony Orchestra (Paganini & Berlioz), Colombia National Symphony Orchestra (Bruch & Britten), Cuenca Symphony Orchestra in Ecuador (Bartók), Real Philharmonia de Galicia (Walton), Castile and Leon Symphony (Bartók), Navarra Symphony (Walton & Berlioz), Córdoba Symphony (García-Abril), Alicante ADDA Symphony Orchestra (García-Abril), Málaga Philharmonic (Bartók), Oviedo Filarmonia (Walton), RTVE Spanish Symphony (Bartók & Walton), Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra (Bartók), New Russia State Symphony Orchestra (Bartók), Andorra National Orchestra (Hoffmeister & Rolla), St. Petersburg Capella (Bruch), Peru National Youth Orchestra (Bruch & J.C.Bach), Juan José Landaeta Symphony Orchestra (Berlioz), Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra in Venezuela (Bartók Viola Concerto), among others. She has a wide repertoire including more 30 viola concertos from baroque to contemporary period. She has worked together with conductors including Michel Plasson, Jacek Kaspszyk, Yaron Traub, Rodolfo Saglimbeni, Paul Daniel, Andres Mustonen, Jorge Mester, Christian Vásquez and Lior Shambadal.

Solo performances include important venues and festivals such as the Great Hall of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Berlin Konzerthaus, Estonia Concert Hall, Société de Musique La Chaux-de-Fonds, Rottweil Musikfestival, Musée d’Orsay in Paris, Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica, Bath Music Festival, Slovenian Philharmonic Hall, Royal Court Theatre in Copenhagen, Xinghai Concert Hall in Guangzhou, Roudaki Hall in Tehran, Gran Teatro Nacional de Lima, Assembly Hall of Beirut, Auditorio Nacional de Madrid, Palau de la Música Catalana, Bilbao Philharmonic Society, Santander Festival, Wigmore Hall in London.

Her debut album Bohèmes with pianist François Dumont was received with great acclaim and awarded ‘Best Classical Album of the Year 2018’ at the Spanish Independent Music Awards (Premios MIN). In 2023 was released her second album, Ritual for viola solo, comprising music over 1000 years, from Hildegard von Bingen to György Kurtág, it has quickly got attention from media and was nominated to the prestigious ICMA Awards 2024 as ‘Best Instrumental Solo’.

Isabel has been involved collaborating and premiering more than 20 new works for viola, many of which are dedicated to her, including composers Gubaidulina, Sotelo, García-Abril, Kurtág, Khayam, Khoury, Cervelló, Marco. Concerto highlights include in 2010 the premiere of the Viola Concerto by José Zárate at Zaragoza Auditorium, later recorded with Extremadura Orchestra (Sony Classical 2017). In 2012 she was invited to Sofia Gubaidulina 80th anniversary Gala at the Great Hall of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, performing her Concerto for two violas “Two Paths” with Estonian National Symphony Orchestra. In 2017 she premiered “Lost to This World” Viola Concerto by Houtaf Khoury dedicated to her with the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra in Beirut. In 2018 she re-premiered “Cantos de Ordesa” Viola Concerto by Antón García-Abril together with the Córdoba Orchestra. 

A passionate chamber musician, she performs with well-known artists such as Prazak and Parisii quartets, Alexander Sitkovetsky, Tedi Papavrami, Olivier Charlier, Victor Julien-Laferrière, Leonard Elschenbroich, Astrig Siranossian, Daniel Schnyder, Rafael Aguirre, Iddo Bar-Shaï, and François Dumont.

Isabel’s innovative spirit to bring classical music to new audiences has led her to create transversal projects with artists such as choreographer Antonio Ruz (SIGNOS for viola solo choreographied), jazz pianist Moisés Sánchez (RAÍCES 2020) and cantaora Rocío Márquez, among others. She is also the creator in 2018 of VIOLA POWER, with the aim of connecting violists from all over the world through different activities. She has been guest performer at Biennale Arte di Venezia, Gala Prix Lumières in Paris, Royal Palace in Madrid, Festival Flamenco On Fire, among others.

Isabel Villanueva holds professorships at the Royal College of Music in London and at Conservatori Superior de Música del Liceu in Barcelona, and regularly gives masterclasses in prestigious institutions including: Conservatoire de Genève, El Sistema de Venezuela, Universidad Panamericana de México, University of Arts in Tehran, Bogotá Interviolas Festival, Bath University, Conservatoire Supérieur de Musique du Liban, Academia Stauffer in Cremona, Spanish Youth National Orchestra.

Her outstanding career as a soloist and pioneer of the viola, along with her dedication and passion to promote her instrument have been recognized with the prestigious ‘El Ojo Crítico’ Award by the Spanish National Broadcasting Corporation in 2015 and the Culture Award of the Community of Madrid in 2019; first time that either of these prizes were awarded to a violist.

Isabel was born in Pamplona (Spain) beginning her musical training in her hometown and in London, Siena, Geneva with professors Igor Sulyga, Lawrence Power, Nobuko Imai and Yuri Bashmet.

Isabel Villanueva plays on an Enrico Catenar viola (Turin 1670).