Sunday, June 24, 2018
Stage

Five things that make Lynn Harrell the most interesting world-class cellist

Over drinks, Lynn Harrell could keep a person of even average curiosity entertained. The cellist and two-time Grammy winner can regale about his travels, drop a few of the household names he’s played with, drop the Pope’s name.

Over dinner, Harrell, 74, might shift gears, maybe talk religion (he changed his), hucksters in the art world (he hates them), or famous conductors, including the now-embattled James Levine of the Metropolitan Opera, a major musical influence (although Harrell recently told the Boston Globe about a group of devotees, or "Levinites," who met frequently at Levine’s home and engaged in sex acts at his behest).

Harrell solos with the Florida Orchestra in this weekend, playing Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 and Max Bruch’s Kol Nidre. He’ll also conduct the concert, which includes Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and Schubert’s Symphony No. 5.

He’s brimming with stories gleaned from a lifetime in music’s upper echelons. Here are five things that make Harrell a fascinating conversationalist.

He’s a movie star

Harrell stars in Cello, a 20-minute film about a famous cellist facing ALS that is winning awards on the festival circuit. He weighs his options, including playing Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in a farewell concert and assisted suicide and deciding to do both.

"He wants to be in charge," Harrell says. "He wants to say, ‘I’ve suffered enough and I want to end my life.’?"

A big backer of California’s End of Life Option Act, Harrell says he’s won five awards for best actor already, despite never having acted before.

He converted to Judaism

Harrell was born in the New York area, the son of baritone Mack Harrell, who sang for 18 years at the Met. He grew up Methodist but it never really sunk in. After more than 40 years of reflection, in 2011 he converted to Reform Judaism.

"I realized that in my heart and in my soul, I have always been a Jew," he says. "My empathy scale is high. Also I don’t really believe in the Christian doctrine or the Mormon doctrine. All of my girlfriends and two wives and friends were Jewish, even as a child. So I just came to realize that this would be completing what is already functioning in my life."

Another influence was his cello teacher, Lev Aronson, who had spent five years in concentration camps during World War II. Once, Aronson surprised him by revealing that he had kept his uniform, and that is was made out paper.

"He said, ‘Do you want to see it?’ And he showed me, and it was really tightly woven strands of paper."

Delta stripped his frequent flier miles

By 2012, Harrell had accumulated more than 500,000 miles on Delta’s SkyMiles program, many of them because he always paid for an extra seat to stash his expensive cello. Delta set him straight in a brusque letter in 2012. Citing a prior warning 11 years earlier, Delta kicked Harrell out of SkyMiles altogether. That meant he lost all of his miles, including the ones for his own seat. The company also said he could never re-enter the program. The Colbert Report made Harrell the star of a mockumentary about the incident, calling the cellist "our country’s greatest threat."

He wants to solve world poverty

In 2002 Harrell married violinist Helen Nightengale, a former student. Several years ago, a friend in their synagogue mentioned a mission trip to Nepal.

"We had read a New York Times article about that said there were 5 million people under the age of 17 who were either orphaned or grew up in a war zone or extreme poverty," he says. "So we went to Nepal to play classical music and folk music of the Nepalese because it’s transformative. We know that music can put a smile on your face no matter what your conditions are. Our friend told us, ‘You’ll never see such poverty as this. But you’ll also very rarely see people who are so happy.’ And that was true."

The couple have a foundation, HEARTbeats, which they would like to use to address poverty in the Los Angeles area, Harrell says.

After 50 years, he sold his cello

He was a teenager in 1962 when he came across the cello that would become his constant companion. He fell in love with the wood, the tonal properties of the Montagnana, made in 1720. But he couldn’t quite come up with the $25,000 price tag. A $2,000 loan from the Cleveland Orchestra got him over the hump, and Harrell and "Monty" were a pair ever since. In 2013, he decided to sell the instrument, which was by then worth an estimated $3 to $5 million.

"I’d had it 50 years and thought I could use the money," he says. The instrument finally sold a few months ago. The terms of the agreement meant he could not know the final price or who bought it. But it was enough to buy a house and an adjacent studio. Harrell now plays an American instrument made in 2008 by Christopher Dungey. It’s just as good, he says.

Did his famous name help boost Monty’s price? It didn’t hurt, Harrell acknowledges with a chuckle.

"Capital gains tax," he says.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

Comments
On stage this week: Freefall Theatre’s ‘The Musical of Musicals,’ Jay Pharoah

On stage this week: Freefall Theatre’s ‘The Musical of Musicals,’ Jay Pharoah

SENDUP: MUSICAL OF MUSICALSFive composers, a talented cast, choreography by Cheryl Lee and music directed by Michael Raabe — that’s Freefall Theatre’s recipe for a laugh-filled, season-ending summer musical, appropriately titled The Musical of Musica...
Published: 06/20/18
Jobsite’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ should be more gripping than it is

Jobsite’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ should be more gripping than it is

TAMPA — The virtues of Dancing at Lughnasa, with which Jobsite Theater closes its season, are many. This drama by the celebrated Brian Friel opened in 1990 to much acclaim. It captures a family’s joys and sadnesses, and the quickness with which one s...
Published: 06/19/18
Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — In his vision for this weekend, Connor Coyle is standing in the ring at the Coliseum, and the referee is raising his gloved fist.He’s got a National Boxing Association middleweight championship belt around his waist, the first of sev...
Published: 06/15/18
Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — In his vision for this weekend, Connor Coyle is standing in the ring at the Coliseum, and the referee is raising his gloved fist.He’s got a National Boxing Association middleweight championship belt around his waist, the first of sev...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/16/18
Why this ballet dancer is skipping college in favor of her own St. Petersburg Ballet Conservatory

Why this ballet dancer is skipping college in favor of her own St. Petersburg Ballet Conservatory

GULFPORT — Brianna Melton is as serious a ballet student as they come.By her junior year at St. Petersburg High’s International Baccalaureate program, she had already spent four summers training with ballet companies across the country and had narrow...
Published: 06/14/18
What’s on stage: The Illusionists, ‘Dancing at Lughnasa,’ G. David Howard

What’s on stage: The Illusionists, ‘Dancing at Lughnasa,’ G. David Howard

OPENING: DANCING AT LUGHNASAIrish playwright Brian Friel, who died in 2015 at 86, won’t be traveling anymore. But I’ll bet he packed a tidy suitcase. Dancing at Lughnasa, Jobsite Theater’s season closer, manages to address a lot of issues: race, reli...
Published: 06/13/18
Ruth Eckerd Hall tees up comedy, romance and Kristin Chenoweth for 2018-19 Broadway season

Ruth Eckerd Hall tees up comedy, romance and Kristin Chenoweth for 2018-19 Broadway season

Ruth Eckerd Hall rolls out a new lineup of musicals for its 2018-19 season, a mix of comedy, favorite musicals and romance."For the last 35 years, Broadway has always been a staple at Ruth Eckerd Hall," chief executive officer Zev Buffman said in a p...
Published: 06/12/18
A tense night at the Tony Awards ends in euphoria for Largo doctor Jeffrey Grove

A tense night at the Tony Awards ends in euphoria for Largo doctor Jeffrey Grove

Dr. Jeffrey Grove sat three-quarters of the way back from the stage at Radio City Music Hall, waiting for his moment. The Largo physician made the trip with family to New York for Sunday’s Tony Awards, where he hoped to see his investment in O...
Published: 06/11/18
Neal Boyd, ‘America’s Got Talent’ winner, dies at 42

Neal Boyd, ‘America’s Got Talent’ winner, dies at 42

SIKESTON, Mo. — Neal Boyd, an opera singer who won America’s Got Talent and dabbled in Missouri politics, has died. Scott County Coroner Scott Amick says Boyd died around 6 p.m. Sunday at his mother’s house in Sikeston. He was 42. Amick says Boyd had...
Published: 06/11/18
Parkland drama teens bring down the house with stirring performance at Tony Awards

Parkland drama teens bring down the house with stirring performance at Tony Awards

Members of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s drama team stole the show at the 72nd Annual Tony Awards Sunday night.The performance brought the crowd— many of whom were wiping tears from their eyes— to its collective feet at the Radio City Music ...
Published: 06/11/18