Just in: A great American cellist has died, aged 76

Just in: A great American cellist has died, aged 76


norman lebrecht

April 28, 2020

Lynn Harrell died today.

The following notice was posted by his wife, the violinist Helen Nightengale:

We have lost a wonderful father, husband , mensch. All four of Lynn’s children, his sister, friends and I mourn him along with those who were lucky enough to know his music, his wit and his humanity. You were an end of an era, Dear Lynn, and will be missed more than you will ever know. We love you to the moon and back. Rest in Peace, dear one, you have earned it.

Lynn Harrell January 30,1944 – April 27,2020


Son of the baritone Mack Harrell (who died when he was 15), Lynn made his debut with the New York Philharmonic aged 17 and, when his mother died soon after, joined the Cleveland Orchestra. His career as a soloist took off in the 1970s. He married the British journalist Linda Blandford and was briefly principal of the Royal Academy of Music in London. Having first played a 1720 Montagnana cello, he bought the 1673 Stradivarius formerly owned by Jacqueline du Pré.

At one point he was first call the world over for the Dvorak and Schumann concertos.

Lynn, a gentle man with malice towards none, is survived by the twins from his first marriage and a son and daughter from his second.

May he rest in peace.

UPDATE: Tributes pour in

UPDATE: Leonard Slatkin remembers Lynn

UPDATE: A talent like his comes once in 50 years



  • Brian v says:

    Very sad I saw him at the festival hall with Andre Previn.and Ann Sophie mutter
    Doing the Beethoven triple concerto.

  • erich says:

    A great artist and a lovely, gentle man. Rest in peace.

  • Max Raimi says:

    Larger than life in every way. He had a huge heart, a massive technique, and a stupendous musical imagination. And he leaves a hole in the world of music that cannot be filled.

    • Bruce says:

      “a stupendous musical imagination” — perfect description. Fearless (but then with those chops he didn’t have to be afraid of anything).

  • HWK says:

    Rest In Peace maestro..

  • Pedro says:

    A great loss. I remember a superb performance of the Schumann concerto at the Berlin Philharmonie with Haitink and the local orchestra.

  • V.Lind says:

    R.I.P. Possibly the best cellist I ever saw live in concert.

  • Steven Honigberg says:

    A very great cellist and prominent teacher and personality has left us. I was in touch with him just two weeks ago. He gave me some interesting advice Slava had told him about Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante, which Harrell recorded twice. God speed my friend.

    • Christopher Pegis says:

      I studied with Lynn for roughly 2 years. I was quite young so the Prokofiev was a few years away. When I did learn it, I was studying with David Finckel a former student of Slava. I would love to know what he told Lynn about that concerto!

  • Simon Scott says:

    A wonderful cellist.
    R. I. P

  • Steven J says:

    Geez, so sorry. I watched a master class video this morning at 3am, (I couldn’t sleep) and wrote him a note of praise. HUGE LOSS FOR THE CELLO WORLD!!!!!!

  • David Taylor says:

    Oh my! I just posted the above video on Facebook. He was one of my favorite string players bar none. What a loss!!

  • Adam Stern says:

    So many fond memories…Haydn and Dvořák concertos, the “Rococo” Variations…but the most lasting was the evening of piano trios he played with Cho-liang Lin and Yefim Bronfman that culminated in a white-hot performance of Tchaikovsky’s trio.

    He also was possessed of a sweet sense of humor…in a performance I heard of the Haydn C-Major concerto, his cadenza was a delightful quodlibet that included the well-known theme from Haydn’s “Surprise” symphony, with a pianissimo harmonic where the loud crashing chord should have been.

    Rest In Peace, Mr. Harrell.

  • One of the giants (in both respects) in the history of the cello has left us.

  • Mark says:

    A great cellist, and by all accounts, a wonderful man. May his memory be a blessing !!

  • What a terrible and shocking news…
    Lynn was one of my oldest colleagues/friends – we have known and highly respected each other for almost 47 years! He was a phenomenal cellist – with facilities and a sound like no one else – and a real “gentle giant” as a human being! He will be greatly missed by anyone who had the privilege and a pleasure to enjoy his larger than life personality… RIP

  • Fernando says:

    Sad loss. I saw his performance of Shostakovich’s Concerto No. 2 in Rio de Janeiro some years ago.

    • Eric Alterman says:

      Thank you for sharing that memory, Fernando. I was a cellist in the OSB at the time, and that concert was a highlight of my 5 years there. I feel fortunate to have been able to accompany Lynn Harrell that one week of concerts.

  • A.L. says:

    Deeply saddened to learn of Harrell’s passing. Had no idea Mack Harrell was his father. May he rest in peace. End of an era is very fitting, an era in which musicians treated their gifts and profession with dignity. All of that has gone to the dogs.

  • Sandra Roberts says:

    Such sad news – we were lucky to have him play in Liverpool for Don Quixote – he brought his young baby who I took to play group whilst he was here – a gentle giant and genius musician. Sending condolences to his family from Liverpool Philharmonic.

  • Robert Roy says:

    Very sad news.

    RIP, Maestro. Thanks for the music.

  • Heather Kurzbauer says:

    A stupendous musician, a musical explorer, a man who stood up for his beliefs and proved that greatness and humility go hand in hand. He will be sorely missed.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    I remember his circa 1980 playing Beethoven trios in the Royal Albert Hall, London with Ashkenazy and Perlman. Sad news….RIP

  • Alan Fletcher says:

    Lynn grew up in Aspen, as his father Mack was one of our founding artists. It was a joy to be with him, and an unforgettable experience hearts artistry. We will never forget him.

  • Comets visit then depart. says:

    Have you ever stood next to someone and just felt the good, the kindness and the love emanate from them and pour out to all those within their immediate reach? This was Lynn Harrell.

  • DO says:

    I was very fortunate to have been able to meet him and perform in an ensemble accompanying him just a year or two ago. I feel so sad for his family. 🙁

  • Petros Linardos says:

    In Verbier in 2005 I had the great privilege not only to hear Lynn Harrell in a most memorable performance of Schubert’s Trout Quintet, but also to experience him as narrator in Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals. He did so with a beautiful resonant and expressive voice, and was charming and entertaining.

    I also witnessed heartwarming moment at a sidewalk near the main tent, when Thomas Quasthoff approached Lynn Harrell and teased him. They seemed to have a few minutes of good fun. A bystander took a photograph of the two of them. Harrell gracefully shrunk his huge physique and hugged Quasthoff. They looked so naturally happy side by side: two musical giants with wonderful souls.

  • Shelley Phelps Johnson says:

    Such a sad day for the cello world! Memories of him coaching my cello students in master class, Bach recitals at Laguna Music Festival, all driven in such a kind, loving and humble way. He will be greatly missed

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Very sad news. A wonderful artist is gone; but not forgotten. Thank you for the music.

  • Herr Doktor says:

    One of the things that impressed me when I heard Lynn Harrell live was not just how good he was, but how much character there was in his playing. There are lots of technically proficient cellists, but what I always heard in his performances was personality. Not mannered in any way, not narcissistic as some can be, but almost a sense that he was saying, “Wow, how lucky I am to be playing this great music in front of all of you.” Dare I say it, after one particular performance, I thought he was a ham–in the best sense possible. He was unique. And I;m going to greatly miss hearing him live again.

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    One of the best of all time.

  • MacroV says:

    One of my favorite recordings is Mozart and other oboe quartets with Ray Still, Perlman, Zukerman, and Lynn Harrell. Recorded around 1979. All of them at the peak of their powers. It’s a wonderful recording.

    I saw Lynn Harrell in concert a couple times, and he was always wonderful. And he seemed like a great personality. 76 isn’t young, but it’s not old; a pity he didn’t have a few more years, but it seems he had many great ones.

  • Laurin says:

    I met him backstage because of a mutual friend after a performance of the Atlanta symphony when I was a teenager in the 1970s. Even as a real nobody, I was treated to his modesty, warmth, and encouragement. A decade later I would run into him frequently while I was a student in Aspen and despite tremendous fame, he was always so friendly and acted as if everyone around him (including me) was a respected colleague or friend. His playing (along with that of a very few others of his generation) revolutionized cello playing with an amazing purity and sweetness of tone. What a terrible loss! I’m so very sad.

  • Bruce says:

    One of the great artists of the 20th century (and part of the 21st). I never heard a bad word about him, and never heard of him badmouthing anybody.

    We were lucky to have him, and lucky still to have so many wonderful recordings to remember him by. RIP.

  • Michael Webster says:

    It was my good fortune to make music with Lynn Harrell at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in the early 70s and many years later as faculty colleagues at Rice University. Many of his accolades include “Giant of the cello” and he was indeed that. He had a giant heart to match his giant sound, and that is how I will remember him. My condolences to Helen and his family.

  • Bruce says:

    I just remembered my favorite Lynn Harrell story, which is also pretty much my favorite “really happened in a concert” story.

    Seattle, 2005. Don Quixote with the Seattle Symphony. There was an announcement over the speakers before the concert to please silence your cell phones, Blackberries, watch alarms, palm digital assistants, and I forget what else. This being Seattle, a highly technological town, you could hear a fresh wave of rustling go through the audience as people fiddled with each piece of technology as it was mentioned.

    Well, Don Quixote started, and… about 5 minutes in, guess whose cell phone started ringing? LYNN HARRELL’S. He whipped it out of his pocket, silenced it, and stuffed it back in his pocket all in about 5 seconds, and was able to continue the performance without missing a note. I was sitting in the second row.

    And it was, of course, a sublime performance. I still remember (even more than the cell phone episode) the way he fearlessly dove into the atmosphere of the piece, showing the ridiculous old knight retaining his dignity amidst the most absurd of circumstances, and fully embracing the heartbreak of the ending.

    If I had only ever heard him play that once, Dayenu — it would have been enough.

  • Karl says:

    I was lucky enough to hear him play Dvorak, Haydn, Elgar, and Shostakovitch over the years. He was a regular at Symphony Hall Boston.

  • A true loss to the musical world. A great cellist and lovely man. Blessings to his family. Evangeline

  • Nick says:

    I was lucky to perform Dvorak cello concerto with him. My respect for him is immense. His legacy will live on forever and he will be dearly missed.

  • Sophie Solomon says:

    Dear Lynn. A titan of a man and musician. Such a spirit of fun, always a twinkle in the eye… That vibrato. “El Presidente.” The king of the bear hug. My dear Kate’s lovely dad. So many memories but perhaps best of all Happy Switzerland Day in Verbier…

  • Alyce Mott says:

    So sad — Victor Herbert fans everywhere knew the name of Lynn Harrell. Our thoughts go out to his family.

  • On 29 October 2005, I happened to be playing a Vivaldi cello concerto in the smaller venue of Benaroya Hall (Seattle USA) with Seattle Baroque Orchestra, while unbeknownst to me, Lynn Harrell was to be playing Don Quixote in the bigger hall with the Seattle Symphony that same evening. As I was rolling my big white Stevenson cello case into the hall for the warm-up, this very nice bear of a man came over and asked me about my case – we had a lovely chat, and it was only at the end that he mentioned who he was and that he was performing as well that evening! – He came over to hear me play after he performed next door – what a lovely man.

  • Denise Ross says:

    I had the privilege of knowing Lynn when he and his mother lived in Denton, TX. He attended Denton Senior High school with us and was in my brother’s class. He and my brother, John Guinn, were good friends, and Lynn was a welcome guest in our home. I remember well when Lynn’s mother was injured in the car crash and the moving story my pastor later told about being with her in the emergency room. In later years, my brother saw Lynn multiple times when he performed with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. My last sighting of Lynn was one of the DSO’s televised concerts. I will never forget the story of Lynn’s difficulty trying to get Delta Airlines to give frequent flier miles to “Cello Harrell,” who occupied the seat next to him on his way to performances. I treasure the many recordings I have of Lynn’s performances, and I mourn the loss of such a wonderful person and musician.

  • John Guinn says:

    I met Lynn in high school during the early part of the 1960s, while his family lived in Denton, Texas, as my sister, Denise Ross, has written in a previous note here. We became friends through common interests, particularly music, a strong but not professional interest in my case. We had a class or two together at school and enjoyed tennis games, an occasional snack at a small barbecue place in Denton called The Little Apple, and other activities outside of school. I never met his father, baritone Mack Harrell, who had died before I met Lynn, but I recall his mother, violinist Marjorie Fulton, checking, on one occasion, to make sure that Lynn was carrying a warm enough jacket when I came by with friends to pick him up on a chilly evening. I also recall a celebration after Lynn advanced to the semifinals of the Second International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. (Lynn had learned a few words of Russian during the competition and seemed to enjoy saying them.) After high school we went separate ways, but kept in touch, in those pre-email days, with an occasional letter or postcard. I enjoyed following Lynn’s career as he progressed through the Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute, leading to a position at the Cleveland Orchestra. During his subsequent solo career, a number of recordings, which I have enjoyed collecting, were released, and occasionally there was an opportunity for a brief personal visit when Lynn performed as soloist with, in recent years, the Detroit Symphony (or, earlier, the Dallas Symphony). Typically, on those occasions, I would stand in line at intermission with admirers, music students, and autograph seekers until I got to the desk where Lynn was sitting. Lynn would recognize me (despite the changes of aging), greet me by name, stand up, and give me a big bear hug. Then, briefly (others were waiting), we would exchange a couple of anecdotes, and he would scribble out some current address information before we parted. Afterward an email or two would be exchanged, then I would wait for his next performance in my vicinity. (Needless to say, his performances were invariably wonderful.) Lynn always had a magnetic personality, and it was impossible not to like him. Despite his enormous worth to music, I remember him first as a friend. It was, of course, difficult in later years to stay in touch with a world-class artist, but I am grateful for the infrequent opportunities to reconnect. His death was most unwelcome news.