Lynn Harrell, who successfully made the leap from orchestral musician to top-flight soloist, has died at the age of 76. He was born in New York into a musical family: his father was the baritone Mack Harrell and his mother, Marjorie McAlister Fulton, a violinist. He studied at Juilliard (with Leonard Rose) and at Curtis (with Orlando Cole).
His parents both died when Harrell was young: his father in 1960 when Lynn was 15, and his mother in 1962 when he was 18. In an interview with Andrew Stewart in Gramophone in May 1994, he talked about his father’s influence: ‘My father was a great singer, but I wasn't aware of that until after he died. But then I would play along with, study and listen to small snippets of his recordings, over and over again, to see the meaning of his art. At times, that experience was often overpowering. I began to realize that it was possible to get a similar variety of attack with the bow as that possible from the human voice. Listening to records of singers became my inspiration fully for five or six years, and I then consciously attempted to extend the palette of sounds I could produce on the cello to rival those of the voice.’
In 1962, he joined George Szell’s Cleveland Orchestra, becoming Principal Cello in 1964, a post he held until 1971. That year he made his solo debut in New York and his solo career was launched.
He both performed and recorded extensively as a soloist (mainly for Decca) but also worked frequently in the trio with Vladimir Ashkenazy and Itzhak Perlman – together they recorded Beethoven’s piano trios (for EMI) and with Ashkenazy, the cello sonatas (for Decca). Among his extensive discography was a recording for DG of Taneyev’s Piano Quintet (with Ilya Gringolts, Vadim Repin, Nobuko Imai and Mikhail Pletnev) which won Gramophone’s Chamber Award in 2006. His catalogue embraces most of the cello concerto repertoire as well as numerous chamber music, and solo, recordings.
Harrell played a Montagnana cello from 1720 and then the 1673 Stradivarius cello owned previously by Jacqueline du Pré. Latterly he played on a modern instrument made by Christopher Dungey.
As his solo career slowed, Harrell took on a number of teaching posts: the Royal Academy of Music in London, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute, the Cleveland Institute of Music, Juilliard, the USC Thornton School of Music in LA and at Rice University.