World’s youngest principal cello?

World’s youngest principal cello?


norman lebrecht

April 24, 2020

Yale student Henry Shapard has been named principal cello of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in Canada.

Henry is 21 and, according to his alma mater, the youngest in the world.

Anyone beat that?

UPDATE: Henry has asked us to state – since the Yale article does not – that he is a pupil at Yale of Ole Akahoshi.


  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    I do not know about cellists, but in relation to violinists, Jaap Van Zweden was a concertmaster of Concertgebouw Orchestra by the age of 18.

  • ML says:

    Lynn Harrell became Cleveland’s when he was 21.

  • Daniel Poulin says:

    “Fresh out of Curtis Music School, 21-year-old cellist Oliver Aldort is the youngest musician ever to join the Boston Symphony Orchestra.” That was 5 years ago. I invited Oliver for a concert in Montreal when he was 15 years old. Not only was he an above average cellist then but he also performed a few works on the piano. A true exceptional talent, indeed.

    • Old Man in the Midwest says:

      Yes for many musicians of an above average ability, the choice is to either play section in a great orchestra like the BSO or to take a principal position in a lessor orchestra.

      The choice is really one of preference and what one enjoys to do.

      And being young, both musicians can decide to take the alternative choice in the near future while they still have plenty of audition chops.

    • ~ C I says:

      Not sure where your quote is from but it is clearly incorrect as there are at least 2 people under the age of 20 who joined BSO. (See other posts below.)

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Wasn’t Toscanini the principal cello of that opera orchestra when he was pressed into an emergency debut as conductor during a South American tour – at age 19?

    Martin Ormandy was principal cellist with the Budapest Opera at age 18.

    Alfred Wallenstein was a cellist with the San Francisco Symphony at 17 – but not principal.

    Leonard Rose was principal in Cleveland at age 21. He was assistant principal for the NBC at age 20.

    I know we are talking cellists here, but Gerhard Taschner was concertmaster in Brno at 17 and was concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic at 19 (and yes I am aware of the “circumstances” in 1941 Berlin, but he was a first rate violinist).

  • MacroV says:

    Currently, or historically? Szymon Goldberg was a Berlin Phil CM at 19. Paul Neubauer was NY Phil Principal Viola at 21. There’s a decent number of 22 YOs who have become principals of major orchestras: Keith Buencke (CSO principal bassoon at 22) a fairly recent example. I think Andreas Ottensammer was the same age when he became Berlin Principal Clarinet. And Karl Leister at age 20, if memory serves.

    Anyway, impressive to win a major orchestra audition at any age, so congrats.

    • Bill says:

      Gunter Pichler (1st violin of the Alban Berg Quartet) was appointed concertmaster of the Wiener Symphoniker at 18 under Sawallisch, and then the Wiener Philharmoniker at 21 under Karajan. Rainer Küchl became concertmaster of the Wiener Philharmoniker at 20.

  • Daphnis176 says:

    Fritz Magg was the principal cellist of the Vienna Symphony at the age of 20, in 1934. He, along with many other musicians, left Austria in 1938, eventually joining the faculty of Indiana University (1948-1989).

  • Alex says:

    Sadly, the editor left out that Henry Shapard is a student of Yale School of Music cello prof. OLE AKAHOSH who taught and coached Henry on all his recent auditions.

    Behind great players are great teachers!

  • Chiara Ines says:

    Richard Sher was 19 when he became principal cellist of St Louis back in the late 60’s. He was 18 when he joined the cello section of the Boston Symphony which debunks Daniel Poulin’s claim below about the 21 year old being youngest to join BSO!

  • Mark Anderson says:

    Emanuel Feuermann was the principal cellist of the Gürzenich Symphony Orchestra and also the professor of cello at the Cologne Conservatory at age 16.

    • Edgar Self says:

      10 points to Mark Anderson and David Nelson for Emanuel Feuermann, Martin Ormandy (Eugene’s brother) and Gerhard Taschner. Feuermann is still the best cellist I’ve ever heard, tied with Casals and young Amit Peled. I also heard Marcel Hubert, Horace Britt, Janos Starker, Lev Aronson in Dallas, Frank Miller, John Sharp, Lynn Harrell, Kurt Reher and brother Sven, Vladimir Berlinsky of Borodin SQ, Gregor Piatigorsky, ,Rostropovich, and udwig Hoelscher. Hermann Busch belongs in there, but I never saw him or Neikrug play. Or Feuermann, of course, but, oh, those records!

      I saw Mischa Elman, Erica Morini, Heifetz, Vasa Prihoda, Denes Szigmondy, Menuhin, Szigeti, Stern, Francescatti, Ilya Kaler, Jakob Krachmalnick , and Frederic Balazs. I won’t even mention Rubinoff. I would most like to have seen Toscha Seidel, Uto Ughi, Kreisler, Adolf Busch, and Bronislaw Hubermann, all of whom had early starts.

      Taschner’s records with Furtwaengler attest to his excellence, like Erik Roehn’s. I didn’t know Alfred Wallenstein was in SFSO.

      Kurt Reher in 1955 said Geore Neikrug was the best cellist in L.A. I don’t know how old they were when they started.

  • Dr Marc Heeg says:

    Parry Karp replaced Lowell Creitz, becoming the cellist for the Pro Arte String Quartet at 21 years of age. An extraordinary talent!

  • NYMike says:

    OK – not cello but Mason Jones was appointed 3rd horn of the Philly Orch., age 19 while still a Curtis student, and principal horn, age 21.

  • 21!

    That must make for an awkward situation if any of the older members of the section had tried out for that position.

  • Alasdair Munro says:

    Walter Weller?

  • Liam Allan-Dalgleish says:

    I guess will just stay in this feel-good world forever

  • fflambeau says:

    Yo Yo Ma was all of seven (7) when he performed for presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.

  • Kyle A Wiedmeyer says:

    Not a string instrument but the new principal tuba of the Milwaukee Symphony will be no older than 19 or 20 once he takes his seat at the beginning of the 20/21 season (whenever that is).

  • AS says:

    I was principal cello of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic at 21, and was appointed principal cello of the Philharmonia at 22 by Muti. Norman, you may even remember that time back in the 80s! Orchestra Wars in London!

  • Nathaniel Rosen says:

    Gregor Piatigorsky, Principal Cellist of Berlin Philharmonic, 20 years old in January of 1924

  • Lisa Zimmerman says:

    Allan Steele, just out of Colburn and just turned 21 (2014), principal of Fort Worth.

  • goecoej says:

    Isang Enders was solo cello at the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden at the age of 20 as well

  • Ken says:

    Arnold Rosé (né Rosenblum) was 17 when appointed (deputy) concertmaster of the Vienna Opera Orchestra and Philharmonic in 1881. He served until 1938 (Walter’s Mahler 9), when he was pensioned off by the Nazis.