Obituary: Cellist Lynn Harrell (1944-2020)

We pay tribute to the leading American cellist

Cellist Lynn Harrell

American cellist Lynn Harrell has died, aged 76. Beginning his musical career as the 20-year-old principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra, he soon became one of the most respected soloists, chamber musicians and educators across the US. 

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Born in New York in 1943, Harrell’s family was very musical: his mother was a violinist, his father, a baritone and regular feature at the Metropolitan Opera. 

After studying at the Juilliard School and Curtis Institute, he joined the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell, becoming principal cello shortly after. He went on to pursue a career as a soloist, making his recital debut in 1971 and later performing with many of the world’s major orchestras. He performed and recorded regularly in a trio with pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy and violinist Itzhak Perlmann. Together, they won Grammy Awards in 1981 and 1987 for their recordings of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio and Beethoven’s Piano Trios respectively.  

Recording extensively with Decca, Harrell played a 1720 Montagnana cello and a 1673 Stradivarius cello previously owned by Jacqueline du Pré. 

Harrell was also a revered teacher, serving as principal of the Royal Academy of Music, as well as posts at the Juilliard School, University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute, among others. 

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In partnership with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Harrell founded the Lynn Harrell Concerto Competition, open to students between the ages of 8 and 18 from Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana.