studied under Leonard Rose. What was that like?
he was quite wonderful and I idolised his cello playing when I was
a boy. When I was about ten, eleven years old, I loved Piatigorsky.
Leonard Rose's playing, the sound and the vibrato, it was such a
beautiful sonority. Although I was studying at that time with a
cellist who was studying with Piatigorsky, whom for him was a god.
But he was always trying to get me to listen to Gorsky's recordings
and I was always listening a bit more to Leonard's Rose recordings
because I loved Rose's playing.
was the difference in their playing?
for me, had tremendous imagination and a unique musical personality.
But Leonard Rose, just instrumentality, played the cello with such
a wonderful sense of depth and breadth of sound quality. It was
very much more like a singer than Piatigorsky.
you were younger in the Cleveland orchestra, I read that you badly
wanted to play solo parts. What was that all about?
I first started playing in an orchestra, I took it up because my
parents had died and I was orphaned and I needed to make some money.
Since I was about twelve or thirteen, I imagined myself being a
soloist. But what I joined then as the wonderful orchestra and started
playing all these wonderful music that I hadn't heard 'cos I didn't
go to orchestra concerts when I was a youngster.
though both your parents were both musicians?
Yes, they'd let me play during the summer times when we were
at the Aspen Music Festival. I went fishing and played baseball.
Very rarely went to a concert. (Laughs here). So I discovered
all these Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Mahler, Stravinsky
when I joined the orchestra, and it was just like being let into
a candy store, just so wonderful. So I got side-tracked with the
idea of wanting to be a soloist and I just loved playing orchestra
that you have a career as a soloist, do you have any longing to
play in an orchestra again?
No. I did for many years. Once I became a soloist I often joined
in as a guest soloist to play with the orchestra a piece that I'd
learnt and played a great deal as a member of an orchestra. But
I realised that I have done that in my life. I've accomplished that
and I don't have the desire to go back and do it again. I like the
idea of conducting and being a 'strings consultant' for orchestra-style
string playing and maybe conducting some. But not to be a member
of a cello section anymore, per se.
The younger Lynn Harrell.
you lean towards a more intellectual/analytical approach of playing
or an approach based more on instinct and feeling?
think for many many years it was very very much instinctive and
emotional. And then when I joined the orchestra with George Szell,
and I met James Levine, I realised the intellectual and the thought
process of interpretation. I was very much into that kind of approach
and that lasted certainly a very long time and its only in the last
twenty years that I've gotten more and more back to playing with
just my instinct and feelings. But my instincts and feelings are
quite changed from my study than when I was younger.
one can say that it is after going back to technique and having
a stronger foundation that you go back to your instinct and that
oh yes. It frightened me once when George Szell said to me, "I
don't understand why you
" - I was criticising Szell in
his approach to a Beethoven piece - why he had that kind of sound
and that choice of tempo, and he said "well if you were born
in Vienna you would understand". And of course I wasn't born
in Vienna so I suddenly realised here I am, born in the boom years,
and growing up in the 1950s in America, and Mozart and Schubert
and Beethoven lived in Vienna in the early 19th century and its
not such an easy thing to just decide their music is the same thing
exactly how you feel now. So I did a great deal of research and
study and I did learn that certain things that instinctively I felt
were just not correct. And I had to give them up.
have, on a number of occasions compared playing the cello to a singer
and his or her techniques. Could you elaborate on that?
It's my favourite subject. I think when people hear string playing
and they like it, they're moved by it, it's because the string player
has a sense of making the string instrument sound and speak and
sing like a singer. So there are aspects of singing and speaking
that are things we should try to copy and emulate.
sense those things and the connections of a good singer to
playing a string instrument in a vocal way.
variety of consonants in language, and the variety of colour of
vowels - from the difference in vowels in French, German, Italian,
they're just so many colours. The beginning of a breath should sound
different than the end of a breath because if it sounds the same
it's not a living breathing, alive animal. Sometimes that's extended
so a string player is bound to just hold a note and its kind of
an abstraction. And vibrato is a natural function of singing, so
sometimes you vibrate on a string instrument very fast like a soprano,
or sometimes very slowly like a bass singer. Of course when you
vibrate very slowly and you're playing in the high register, it
just sounds like a very fat over-the-top Wagnerian soprano who should've
stopped singing twenty years ago. Which is of course funny. We all
think of that as funny. So I can make people laugh by demonstrating
(and he does that here, singing
kind of vibrato. But it's appropriate in certain very low notes,
because that's what happens with the bass singer down in the very
deep register, where it vibrate much more slowly.
there's breath, there's colour, there's articulation, and there's
rhythm. The notation of music is divided mathematically by twos
and threes. But there's a lot in between a two and a three. There's
a lot in between that. And of course, there is in language and speech
and poetry, there's sense that we can alter, with an educated guess,
a classical rhythmic function much like in the La Mer (which
was being rehearsed next door, and he demonstrates with notes from
more vibrant to languid styles rhythm).
The older Lynn Harrell.
both following the score exactly with that rhythm. It's the interpretation,
now which one would be more correct. An educated guess would be
the French one, because the French is a softer more sensual language
than German. So that's just how you would use things that you could
study and learn from music that has text so music that has text
a composer writes because of the text meaning something.
the other piece you would be playing, the Schelomo, the "Hebrew
Yes, the Schelomo. King Solomon is a very dynamic leader,
he is a young King, he's got a great deal of vigour and reading
Ecclesiastes in the old testament you get a feeling for the
kind of sensuality and emotional aesthetic strength there is in
King Solomon. And to pit it against the entire Israelites, the rest
of the orchestra is very much like all of the Israelites, and King
Solomon is the dominating over that sometimes not necessarily with
muscular force but with philosophical and intellectual power.
I be straying from the truth if I suggested that this connection
you use can be attributed to the fact that your father was an operatic
Yes, I think when I've told cello students of mine to study
opera, and to study Lieder, even when they do, they often
don't get as much inspiration and as many ideas as to how to change
their cello technique from the singing as much as I did, and I think
that's partly cause of the genes of my father as a great singer
and I heard him when I was very very little growing up. So I sense
those things and the connections of a good singer to playing a string
instrument in a vocal way.
your parents passed away by the time you were 17. Could you comment
on pain and the artistic process? As surely this must have affected
your playing, your musical life?
I think I have a great deal of pain from that experience. I'm not
saying that I'm special in any way. I think everyone is dealt things,
like in a card game, that are unfortunate and difficult. But I think
for me, because I didn't have anyone to look after me, when I first
moved to Cleveland to get a job, and to earn some money, was the
effect of it was that I took longer to open and free up my musical
and aesthetic personality. I was feeling things very intensely inside,
but they didn't come out through my playing and it was in very younger
years, I played boringly. It was boring. It wasn't full of all the
feeling that I had inside. It just wasn't able to come out, and
that I think was a protection device because I had been left alone
and I didn't know where I was going to go and who I'd become. It
was difficult for a number of years.
1999, you presented a recital program entitled "Songs My Father
Taught Me". Could you tell us more about that?
Yes, it was a concert that I wanted to do for many years. It
was through my friendship with Jimmy Levine who introduced me to
my father's artistry. He came over to my house once and said, haven't
you heard your father's recording of this or that? And I said no.
So he put them on for me and I was just amazed how wonderful my
father's singing was. And we never had any musical discussion or
he never forced me to come to a concert, or if I did come to a concert,
tell me about the piece he was about to sing, or share any of his
music with me. So the fact that I learnt that he was such a great
artist after he died, made it a very powerful source of study and
it certainly changed my life from that point on.
back to making this program with my father in mind and I talked
about my upbringing, I played a number of his recordings in the
concert, and certain excerpts I would actually play his recording
and then I'd play the exact same song with a cello because I wanted
to show people more definitely what it is about being a singer that
you copy. So if you'd have heard that program, you'd hear my father
singing a song of Schumann then I'd play the same song in the exact
same key. And you could see how I would make it sound as much like
a cello singing as my father was singing with a human voice. And
that I wanted to do, not only for the audience to understand where
I come from as an artist and a musician, but also because I learned
so much from my father.
was it like recording the Beethoven String Trios with two great
musicians and being the first classical artists to perform at the
Beethovan Trios was just a hoot! Because Itzhak Perlman and Pinkas
Zukerman are great fun and they're always having a great great time,
joking around a lot. And at the Grammy's, it was great. I met so
many great musicians backstage. It was very exciting but it's a
very wild kind of an atmosphere. You have so little time to actually
play and rehearse, and there's that little bit of talking before,
then lights, the television sort of Hollywood sort of atmosphere,
makes it very difficult to concentrate and to play well.
Lynn Harrell performs in Singapore, Nov
9 and Nov 10, 2001.
is a tendency for celebrated musicians such as yourself to perform
crowd-pleasers in concerts. What would you to say if I suggested
that perhaps big name musicians such as yourself could help attract
attention to lesser known works by performing them instead of the
usual crowd-pleasing fare?
Yes, I think it is very very important. I remember reading a
Stravinsky book where he says that it isn't the people who dedicate
themselves playing and singing contemporary music, it's the people
who get known as romantic concert virtuosos who, when they play
a contemporary piece and difficult intellectual music, the audiences
are much more liable to accept it and listen to it. And I love to
stretch my musical background and personality with new pieces.
much does the audience affect your playing?
I never decide to play something differently because there are
people sitting there - consciously. But I do think I am susceptible
to feeling the collective consciousness and concentration and focus
of an audience. And it feeds me. I'm not sure how this happens but
I recognise that it does happen. It doesn't happen as much in a
rehearsal with an orchestra because it's just the orchestra musicians
who are listening and they're not listening quite the same way as
an audience member because they are busy playing themselves. Therefore
I think I play better in concerts than I do in recording sessions
to time constraints, DAVID
CHEW failed to get Lynn Harrell to share his $4-million dollar
experience of losing his cello in a NY cab and more
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