Fare thee well dear friend!

There comes a time in each of our lives when we take stock of our past, present, and future and this is exactly how I’ve spent the past year with one vitally important aspect of my life and career. It is with these thoughts that I have recently decided to part ways with my best friend and companion for the last 50 years: my Montagnana cello.

Lynn and cello
1966 Schumann cello concerto; my debut solo with the Cleveland Orchestra and George Szell conducting.

Monty began his life in Venice in 1720 but my path first crossed his in 1962 at Jacques Francais Luthier shop in New York on West 57th Street. I was completely smitten with it but they let me try it out in different acoustical environments and to try it under concert conditions because at that time, I was playing in the Cleveland Orchestra and a great deal of chamber and solo work.
It remember it as if it happened yesterday, I admired its tonal properties and appreciated its response more and more during this trial phase. At that time, it hadn’t been played for awhile so it needed time to find its voice again, not to mention requiring quite a bit of adjustment to my approach. What I learned early on is an instrument of great character needs a strong personality in its player to bring out the best of its voice and resonance.
Through the clarity of hindsight, this instrument is very different than the one I fell in love with over 50 years ago. With age came the ability to learn how to get so much more color and variety from it. Having regular performance time has helped it mature somewhat (50 years is 50 years!), but with a lifespan measured in centuries instead of decades, it’s impossible to know exactly how much.
But it has been my companion for many things in my career; too many to put together any sort of comprehensive list but a few items that stand out for me are…

  • my first job in the Cleveland Orchestra as sixth cellist, then to principal after two years, and six more years of self study and learning from the great musicians around me in that orchestra.
  • my early friendship with James Levine as conductor of the student orchestra at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
  • my first performances of the Dvorak Cello Concerto and Strauss’s Don Quixote.
  • my first Cleveland recital in which Victor Babin of Vronsky and Babin fame, joined me in the Cleveland premiere of his Variations on a theme by Henry Purcell.
  • a striking and virtuosic piece written for Nikolai Grauden, with whom I studied as a boy in Aspen during the summers 1955-59.

Lynn with Cello
With Kurt Sanderling and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in the mid 80′s playing the Shostakovich Second Cello Concerto.

And then there’s the world premiers with the Montagnana; the Sonatas for solo cello by Klaus Roy, Donald Erb, Marcel Dick, Tobias Picker, Marc Neikrug, and David Crumb; concertos by Erb, Benjamin Lees, and Stephen Paulus plus the first LA performance of Lutoslawski’s concerto with the composer conducting.
For longer than I can recall, this March in Boston will be the first time I’ll use an instrument other than the Montagnana for the premier of Augusta Reed Thomas’s Phoenix Rising.
This was a great find in 1962 and I can say with a level of absolute confidence built on having unusual access to playing dozens of world class cellos, Montagnanas, Strads, Gofrillers, Tecchlers, Gaglianos, Serafin, and a wonderful Tononi, I feel blessed that I came across this great cello. After all, in 1962 I was still a teenager and having just lost my parents, just starting my professional career and I couldn’t quite afford the steep price of $25,000! To this day, I’m grateful that the Cleveland Orchestra loaned me $2,000 in order to not miss the extraordinary opportunity.
Thank God because this instrument helped me find my voice and sound.
Over time, musicians become one with our instrument partner and so it happened with this cello and me. I changed it and it unquestionably changed me. Now, I want to have a hand in seeing it go to another musician so to that end, I have decided to sell it directly so as to help another musician find his/her voice and true soul in music. Fare thee well dear friend!
Encore: I thought it would be nice to share more than a just a few photos of the cello over the years from my personal colelction.

The Montagnana and I in 2010 during a recording session with friend Jessye Norman.
The Montagnana and me in 2010 during a recording session with friend Jessye Norman.

13 thoughts on “Fare thee well dear friend!”

  1. As a long-time fan, I’ve heard you play on that wonderful cello many times, Mr. Harrell. I’m sure it was a terribly hard decision to part with it. Thanks for sharing this insight into your musical life.

  2. Dear Mr. Harrell
    A few minutes ago i have send you a privat, very important message on Facebook
    from whole my hart i hope that you will read it!
    Warm greetings
    Harriet Krijgh

  3. It deserves the frequent flier miles… but experience shows me again and again that the player makes the instrument, not vice versa.
    Matthew H. Fields

  4. Mr. Harrell:
    I thought I should share a story about your impact on a young musician. Our youth orchestra was touring Wisconsin in the late 90s and part of our travel was attendance at a concert of the Milwaukee Symphony, with which you were soloing (Shostakovich?) After the performance, all headed back to our hotel for an hour or two of relaxation. As I wandered the halls making sure that there was no “hanky-panky” going on, I came upon a room in which I heard a cello. While every other student in the ensemble was in the hotel pool, our principal cellist was drawn to practice.
    She has since gone on to earn a Master’s in cello performance and continues to play in the “other” MSO (Madison) and a number of other area orchestras and chamber ensembles. Even though music is not her bread and butter, it remains a very important part of her life. I just wanted you to know the impact you had on one of the thousands in attendance that evening.

  5. Dear Lynn,
    it was a great experience to make music with you and I am proud that I was repeatedly allowed to do that.
    I have the most wonderful memories and I wish you all the best. I feel it is an extremely gracious gesture from you to let your wonderful cello start a new chapter of its life. Very warm regards
    Jiri Belohlavek

    • Oh, Jiri!! I have the most intense warm memories of my work with you! And train journeys in the Scottish countryside. But, your humility and great musicianship was and is an inspiration to me. Yours, Lynn

  6. I have fond memories of you and your Montagnana spanning the decades. I first heard you at the LA Phil with Zubin Mehta conducting. You did the Haydn in C major and one other piece that escapes me. I was captivated by the way you made that Montagnana sing in the upper register. I heard you again the next year in LA in recital with James Levine. Then I heard you with the Strad and Dungey in another couple of concerts, but I was glad to hear you once more with the Montagnana in Seattle in March 2011. It’s been a long great ride and I’m looking forward to what the next owner does with it.

  7. That’s my teacher sitting concertmaster in the photo of you with the Philly Orchestra 🙂 Thanks for your blog – I love reading it!

  8. I was in the cello section of the New Jersey Symphony in 1972 or 3 when you played the Dvorak Concerto. In the first rehearsal and many of us were just amazed by the sound your bow arm pulled, not forced, out of that cello. I was still at Juilliard and I told Harvey Shapiro about it during a lesson and he of course smiled and told me to lean forward more! To this day I think Rose and Shapiro helped me so much and now get to watch your
    lessons as well. So many of us hope you will return to the Seattle area again. You are a mentor to a lot of cellists and your letting go of that cello is a noble thing. My hat is off. Don

  9. That’s one of the sweetest posts I’ve read in a while. Thank you.
    I’ve been in Ukraine for three days and miss my cello greatly. Hope I can find one soon!
    Thanks for being inspiration and an encouragement.
    And, indeed, come back to Seattle if you may!

  10. Thank you! i was in seattle a few weeks ago recording on DVD the Bach Suites on the Bass of Spain 1713, by Stradivari. Perhaps the greatest cello ever made. A great honor…

  11. Hi, Lynn…Sorry for your loss; hope the new one is a
    worthy replacement. Sorry I missed you in Detroit. You mentioned
    UCO in your blog and I just wanted to say our performance of the
    Dvorak was and continues to be a highlight of my life. Continued
    good fortune; stay healty and happy.


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