Leonard Slatkin: The big bear of the cello has gone

Leonard Slatkin: The big bear of the cello has gone


norman lebrecht

April 28, 2020

A tribute to Lynn Harrell:

The big bear of the cello is gone. Was there ever a more congenial musician? It was never work with Lynn, that smile always letting you know that he was at one with the music and eager to collaborate with you, wherever the turn of phrase went.

So many memories, whether making great music all over the world or just sitting down for a meal. His stories about the Cleveland days were filled with childlike wonder. How could it not be so? The son of a great baritone, this must have been where he got his lyric voice. Studying with the best and then passing on those traditions were a hallmark of his life.

The last time we performed together was a few years ago in Detroit.  We had gotten the news that Janos Starker had just passed away, minutes before we were to do the Dvorak. I knew he could not concentrate in his usual manner. Lynn announced to the audience that we had lost a great cellist and that it was time for some consoling Bach. I never knew my friend to be shaken by anything, but on that afternoon, his bow trembled and he was overcome by emotion.

Now it is my heart that is heavy with this loss.  Lynn will be among the cellists in the celestial orchestra. It would not be like him to assume to sit first chair.  But he does get to hear his father sing, “Ich habe Genug.”

RIP my dear friend.

UPDATE: Lynn in his own words: a recent podcast


  • Amos says:

    Given the reference to stories from Mr. Harrell’s days in Cleveland, it is especially apt that Marc Lifschey was playing oboe on the Mack Harrell recording! Mr. Harrell often referred to his and the orchestra’s love-hate relationship with George Szell but in a commencement address acknowledged that GS’s prodding led him to re-dedicate himself to his craft. RIP!

  • Greg Bottini says:

    So sad to read this. My wife and I heard Lynn Harrell play a Beethoven sonata with Simone Dinnerstein just a couple of months ago, at the Presidio in San Francisco. It was a brilliant performance by both.
    Rest in Peace, ‘cello master.

  • David Segal says:

    Beautiful and fits the day and the period we are in.

  • M2N2K says:

    During last century’s last quarter, no one played cello better than Lynn Harrell. And he was a truly nice guy too. This is a tremendous loss.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    Beautiful tribute, Leonard. So very sorry you have lost this very special lifelong friend. His legacy will be felt for many generations to come.

  • Mary says:

    Thank you for sharing your incredible talent with so many, in so many ways.

  • Carole says:

    Beautiful tribute

  • Mather Pfeiffenberger says:

    Maestro, I enjoyed the performances of the Barber Cello Concerto you conducted with Lynn as soloist in Washington in 2004. He played it with as much tenderness and passion as he would have the Dvorak.