New York Phil principal cellist dies, one day short of 90

The Hungarian-American cellist Lazslo Varga, principal of the NY  Phil for 11 years under Mitropoulos and Bernstein, has died in Florida.

An international soloist who played concertos the world over, he was also a member of the Borodin Piano Trio, the Lener string quartet and other chamber ensembles. Laszlo (l.) made a host of cello arrangements of classical and modern masterpieces and taught many future artists in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Toronto and Houston.

laszlo varga

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  • I remember Lazsy when we were both busy playing the latest pieces written for us by Meyer Kupferman (the ’70s). Meyer adored him, as Lazsy would play absolutely EVERYTHING Meyer put in front of him, and I can tell you, that was a lot of music- a concerto, solo and chamber music aplenty. He was a hell of fine player.

  • I am very saddened by this news. Many years ago, in the late 1970s, I, a French horn player, was lucky enough to take part in a ‘Vox’ recording in London of the lovely Schumann ‘Andante and Variations’ for 2 Pianos, 2 Cellos and Horn with Mr Varga and colleagues. I say ‘lucky’ because, by rights, I suppose the ensemble ought to have had a Hungarian horn player (!), since the pianists were Peter Frankl and Andras Schiff, and the cellists were Laszlo Varga and Olga Hegedus ( who although British has Hungarian ancestry). It was a day of lovely music-making and I will always remember it for the warmth and sensitivity of these wonderful musicians.

  • As a teenager in 1957 I spent the summer as a student violinist at the Chautauqua Music Festival held near the shore of the beautiful Chautauqua Lake, New York. The Festival always has a summer professional orchestra with musicians from diverse orchestras. I was early taken with the playing of the principal cellist, Laszlo Varga. Handling the cello seemed so naturally simple for Laszlo, and somehow he seemed to have the orchestral repertoire memorized entirely.

    One of the major concerts featured the Dvorak Cello Concerto probably performed flawlessly of course, though I mainly remember the encore: Bach’s Chaconne transcribed from unaccompanied violin by Laszlo. This concert has left me with a lifetime’s love of this glorious varietal work.

    Of course, Laszlo didn’t know me at all in 1957, as we were separated by a generation, but I met up with him a couple of years ago at his home in Sarasota, Florida, and brought up his playing the Chaconne years before as a young cellist. He said he’d been working on various parts over the week before the concert and wasn’t sure he would have everything done in time. At the end of the Dvorak performance, Laszlo announced an encore, “The Bach Chaconne”, and was greeted by an audible sigh from the entire orchestra. Were his fellow musicians worried about the near impossibility of playing this piece on a cello? No! It was the thought of an extra 15 minutes before taking a relaxing smoke break in the gardens behind the Amphitheater.

  • Oops… apologies for my incorrect spelling of Mr Varga’s name, it should have read: ‘Lazslo’ of course.

  • Many thanks, David! I now see that the original posting is inconsistent with the spelling…. nevertheless this doesn’t detract, hopefully, from the keen loss that we all feel at the news of Laszlo’s passing.

  • Mr. Varga was a brilliant teacher and conductor in addition to his prowess as a formidable cellist and musician. An artist to the core, I learned so much from him in the short time I had with him. He changed my thinking about left side technique, and made me dig more deeply into the music than anyone before had ever asked. I owe him a great debt.

  • i was privileged to know Mr. Vargas during his Aspen days. A wonderful soloist and chamber musician. His class of artistry will be missed.

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