Grammy-winning US cellist, Lynn Harrell, has died aged 76

29 April 2020, 10:54 | Updated: 30 April 2020, 08:16

Cellist Lynn Harrell has died aged 76
Cellist Lynn Harrell has died aged 76. Picture: Getty

By Rosie Pentreath

The Grammy Award-winning American cellist died on 27 April from undisclosed causes.

Cellist Lynn Harrell has died at the age of 76.

The American cellist, famous for making the transition from orchestral player to one of the best known soloists of his generation, died on Tuesday (27 April) according to an announcement posted by his wife, violinist Helen Nightingale.

Harrell performed with numerous leading US and European orchestras, and won Grammys in 1981 (Best Chamber Music Performance for Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor with violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy) and 1987 (Best Chamber Performance for Beethoven’s Complete Piano Trios, also with Perlman and Ashkenazy), with several nominations in other years.

Lynn Harrell performs with the New York Philharmonic
Lynn Harrell performs with the New York Philharmonic. Picture: Getty

Harrell was born in New York in 1943 to musical parents – his father, Mack Harrell, was a baritone and his mother was violinist Marjorie McAlister Fulton.

He studied at the Juilliard in New York, and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, learning the cello under Lev Aronson and Leonard Rose. He made his Carnegie Hall debut at the age of 17, performing with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra as part of a Young People’s Concert.

Harrell was principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1964 to 1971, after which he began his career as a soloist, making his recital debut in New York in 1971. In a review of his solo performance, The New York Times said “it would be hard to overpraise the beautiful playing”.

Institutions he taught at included the Royal Academy of Music, the Cleveland Institute of Music, the Juilliard in New York, the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute, a summer training programme of which he was also music director.

Posted by Lynn Harrell on Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Violinist Nigel Kennedy remembers Harrell fondly, and has described him as “the greatest cellist of his generation and maybe for the last hundred years.” Kennedy spoke of receiving a supportive letter out of the blue, after taking a sabbatical, from the cellist:

“This generous outreach was typical of Lynn and led to us recording and touring duo repertoire for cello and violin around the world. During our work together he displayed the incredible joy of music and of life.

“What was even more important was the generosity, humility, honesty and openness epitomised by Lynn the man.”

Harrell played a 1720 Montagnana cello and the 1673 Stradivarius that had previously been owned by Jacqueline du Pré.

He is survived by his wife, Helena Nightingale, and four children.