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Cellist Lynn Harrell, one of the finest and most prominent American classical musicians of his generation, has died. He was 76 years old. His death was initially announced by his wife, violinist Helen Nightengale, on social media. She did not disclose the cause of his death. In a statement provided Wednesday by Columbia Artists, the company that managed Harrell, Nightengale said that the cellist’s death was unexpected.

Over the course of his wide-ranging career, Harrel performed as a soloist with just about every major orchestra in the U.S. and Europe. Within the classical music world, Harrell was also widely beloved as a generous chamber music colleague, a respected teacher, and a musician’s musician.

When he made his debut a Carnegie Recital Hall (now Weil Recital Hall) at age 20 in 1964, the NewYork Times enthused: “He has music in his bones, plus a technique that a cellist two or three times his age can envy.”

Harrell was born Jan. 30, 1944, in New York City. He was the son of two notable musicians: baritone Mack Harrell, a regular presence at the Metropolitan Opera for many years, and violinist Marjorie McAlister Fulton. His godfather was the revered choral conductor Robert Shaw. When he was 12, the family moved to Dallas, but spent summer in Aspen, colo., while Mack Harrell taught and performed at the Aspen Music Festival and School. Throughout his own career, Lynn Harrell maintained a deep relationship with the Aspen Festival as well.

After attending some high school in Texas, Harrell studied in New York and Philadelphia: first at The Juilliard School with Leonard Rose and at the Curtis Institute with Orlando Cole.

Both his parents died when he was just a teenager – first his father of cancer, and then just two years later, his mother in a car accident, when he was 17. A year later, he landed a job in the cello section of the Cleveland Orchestra, playing under conductor George Szell. He was the orchestra’s principal cellist from 1964 to 1971.

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