Finding her career expanding quickly after winning the 1981 Concours Rostropovich in Paris, Maria Kliegel achieved celebrity for both her commanding live performances and her extensive discography on the Naxos label. Her repertory is wide and varied, embracing compositions of her own time as well as standard works from the Baroque period forward. She has lived up to Mstislav Rostropovich's assessment: "the best cellist I've heard since Jacqueline du Pré."
After undertaking studies with Janos Starker at Indiana University, Kliegel began winning first prizes in several competitions in America and Europe, including the First German Music Competition, and was chosen for the Concerts with Young Artists program. Enjoying the publicity that followed her first prize in the Rostropovich competition, she began touring and was accompanied by Rostropovich himself. Her attractive appearance brought offers of television appearances, and by 1990 her recording of Alfred Schnittke's first cello concerto brought acknowledgement from the composer himself that hers was a definitive interpretation. For Naxos, Kliegel has recorded most of the core cello repertory, becoming in the process a leading cellist in worldwide sales. The concertos of Beethoven, Bloch, Brahms, Bruch, Dohnányi, Dvorák, Elgar, Saint-Saëns, Shostakovich, Schumann, Tavener, and Tchaikovsky have all been preserved on disc, as have numerous chamber works by such composers as Gubaydulina, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Schubert. Several of these recordings were honored as editor's choices. Another major recording project has been the complete Haydn concertos with the Cologne Chamber Orchestra. Since1986, Kliegel has conducted master classes at the Cologne Music Academy. In 1999, she participated in two events honoring the 75th birthday of her teacher Janos Starker. The first took place in Kronberg at the International Cello Academy; the second was held at Indiana University, where she performed with the Indiana University Philharmonic directed by Rostropovich. Kliegel and colleagues Ida Bieler and Nina Tichman formed the Xyrion Trio in 2001. In addition to her concert performances and recording projects, Kliegel has won acknowledgement for her broader services to music. In 1998 she was appointed a board member of the Deutscher Musikrat; she was also awarded the North-Rhine Westphalia Order of Merit. She published a book and DVD masterclass in 2006 that won educational media prizes in Europe and was released in English by Naxos in 2010.
Kliegel performs on the ex-Gendron Stradivarius of 1693 owned for three decades by Maurice Gendron.