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Do you want to become a good cello player and make it your career? Knowing about famous cello players can give you something to aspire to and some inspiration outside of private lessons.
Whether you want to play music by J.S. Bach, Michael Jackson, or anyone in between, there’s a cellist for you. Check out the recordings from multiple cellists to help develop your own playing style.
Bottom Line Up Front
Yo-Yo Ma is the most famous cellist alive now, but he’s far from the only talent. Learn about cellists throughout history to become a better musician yourself.
Famous Cello Players
You could have the best cello in the world. But if you don’t know much about famous cello players, you won’t know where to look for inspiration for your own playing.
Of course, you may have a cello teacher to guide you, but they can only teach so much. Listening to other players can help you form your own sound and avoid being a replica of your teacher.
Here are some famous cello players of today and years past. Check out their music to help inform how you play cello music.
You don’t have to be a cello player to have heard of Yo-Yo Ma. He’s probably the greatest cellist of our time, and he has the skills and experience to hold that title.
Ma started performing for audiences when he was just five years old, and his career has gone up from there. During his career, he’s recorded more than 90 albums that you can check out.
He also boasts 18 Grammy wins for those recordings, the first of which he won in 1984. He’s an excellent cellist to listen to if you like a variety of music because he blends styles very well.
While not alive today, Pablo Casals is one of the most famous cellists of all time. He played violin, piano, and flute early in his childhood before he switched to the cello.
Casals played a big role in making the J.S. Bach Cello Suites as popular as they are. His recordings reflect his own style while also bringing light to the amazing solo works.
Along with playing solos, Casals played with orchestras and recorded music with groups. One of my favorite quotes is when he explained why he still practiced later in life, “I feel like I’m making progress.”
A lot of musicians know of Boccherini as a composer, but he was also a fantastic cello player. He was alive from 1743 to 1805 and so was active in the early Classical era.
Along with his father, Boccherini played for Italian royalty. Boccherini wrote tons of amazing works, including a Cello Concerto in B flat as well as various chamber works for strings.
As a player, he took inspiration from the violin to help inform his cello playing. That helped him stand out from other cellists of his time, and he’s a great player and composer to know about whether you’re a cellist or not.
Another composer and cellist, Jacques Offenbach is probably more well-known for writing music than playing it. His Duos for 2 Cellos is an excellent piece for advanced cello players to learn.
Offenbach worked during the Romantic era, so his style is a bit different from Boccherini’s. If you’re a vocalist, you probably know of Offenbach’s operas, and he wrote quite a few of them.
While he wasn’t as prolific as a cello player, he’s still a famous musician to know. You can play his compositions and listen to them by other musicians to help inspire your playing.
From Azerbaijan, some say that Rostropovich was the best cello player ever. He was on many recordings, including a recording of the Schubert String Quintet filling out the fifth part with the Emerson String Quartet.
Rostropovich also composed over 100 works during his life. His work earned him tons of awards all over the world. Outside of music, he raised money for charities.
He also advocated for free speech, even in the Soviet Union. Also in his life, he worked to become friends with the musicians he worked with to help build better connections.
Jacqueline du Pre
One of the most famous women to play the cello was Jacqueline du Pre. She began her career in her twenties and quickly became a famous musician all over the world.
du Pre managed to record a lot of famous cello works before multiple sclerosis stopped her from playing when she was 27. Sadly, she passed away a few years later, but we can all listen to her recordings now.
If you want to learn more about her, you can read plenty of biographies about the cellist. Her story is very inspiring, especially since she didn’t achieve success as early as some cellists, like Yo-Yo Ma.
Maisky is another fantastic cellist, and he comes from Latvia, growing up in the Soviet Union. He studied at the Moscow Conservatory and took lessons from players such as Mstislav Rostropovich and Gregor Piatigorsky.
Some people have criticized the player for his loud sound. However, that hasn’t stopped him from performing, recording, and having a successful career in general.
One of his recordings he did with his children who play violin and piano. Even in his 70s, Maisky is still active as a cellist, so you can listen to him on recordings or live.
Lynn Harrell was an American cellist who learned music from and gained connections through his father. It only took a few recitals for him to make a name for himself and start an international career.
His career took him all over the world as a performer and a teacher. Throughout his life, he taught at the Royal Academy of Music, the Juilliard School, and other excellent music schools.
You can listen to his recordings of works such as the Herbert Cello Concertos. Even though he passed away a few years ago, his legacy lives on, and cellists will continue to learn from that.
Julian Lloyd Webber
If you grew up as a theatre kid like me, you’ve probably heard of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Well, his younger brother, Julian, is one of the most famous cellists.
Both brothers grew up around music, and Julian started his career at a young age. He obtained training at the Royal College of Music, and he has since played all over the world.
You can listen to his CD “Lloyd Webber Plays Lloyd Webber” where he plays transcriptions of Andrew’s works. His other recordings are also worth listening to as you learn the cello.
Another British cellist, Steven Isserlis is an amazing performer who grew up around music. He’s performed as a soloist, with orchestras, and in other capacities, and you can listen to his recordings.
To help young cellists, he wrote a companion book to the Bach Cello Suites. You can use that book to learn from Isserlis without taking private lessons, and it can inform your interpretation of the famous suites.
He’s even written books about the cello for children to help kids learn about the instrument. And his playing has helped him earn multiple Grammy nominations.
Paul Tortelier was a French cellist, and he started playing when he was 12. A serious student and musician, he eventually started touring all over the world.
His teachers loved him as a student, and Tortelier also worked as a composer. At one point, Casals selected Tortelier to play in the Prades Festival Orchestra.
You can read his autobiography to learn more about the player’s life and work. He’s an excellent inspiration for current and future generations of cello and music students.
A younger cellist alive today, Alisa Weilerstein puts her own spin on the classical music she plays. Her parents play the violin and piano, and she started a trio with them after she started playing the cello.
She’s also played as a soloist and has worked with other musicians outside of her family. Weilerstein’s career has taken her all over the world, and she’s performed in concert halls and schools.
If you’re a woman, you can use her recordings to inspire your own career. Then, you can forge a path in a field where men still dominate the landscape.
Kanneh-Mason is only 22 years old, but he’s accomplished a lot in that time. He won Britain’s Got Talent when he was just 16, and he won the BBC Young Musician.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle had him play at their wedding. Kanneh-Mason is also part of the Chineke Orchestra, which is exclusively for minorities.
Along with his recordings, he works hard to advocate for diversity in classical music. He is and will continue to be an inspiration for black children wanting to play the cello or any other instrument.
I first learned of Sophia Bacelar on YouTube and Instagram, and she has quite a presence. However, she also balances her social media work with her career as a cello soloist.
Her dad let her use a viola as a cello when she was only a couple of years old. After falling in love with that, she switched to a proper cello and continued to learn music through her childhood.
She has recorded music, performed live, and has posted her recordings online. Bacelar will probably have a long career, so she’ll be a good inspiration for musicians for years to come.
A Spanish cellist, Pablo Ferrandez comes from a musical family. His sister, Sara, is a violist, and the two have frequently collaborated on music.
Like Bacelar, Ferrandez is active on social media and has built up a following. He’s performed all over the world and has made multiple recordings alone and with other musicians.
If you want to listen to another cellist as their career grows, you should follow him. Odds are, he will continue to see more and more success over the years.
If classical music isn’t your thing, check out 2CELLOS. Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser have played covers of pop songs and rocks songs, so they’re an excellent inspiration for aspiring crossover artists.
They’ve made recordings that you can buy, and they also have a YouTube channel full of songs. There’s something for everyone, whether you like pop, rock, or something else.
I first learned of 2CELLOS when they accompanied Santana and Sebastian for a vocal duel on Glee. The cellos playing a cover of Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal works very well.
While he’s primarily a vocalist, Kevin Olusola is also a cellist and part of Pentatonix. He plays cello on the Pentatonix and Lindsey Sterling cover of Radioactive by Imagine Dragons.
His cello solo in that song evokes the tension and emotions of a wasteland that the group portrays in the music video. Not to mention he’s able to play the cello and beatbox at the same time.
If you like combining voice with cello, you should listen to that recording. I’m not quite sure if Kevin plays cello on other songs, but the group is great for all musicians to hear.
FAQs About Famous Cello Players
Answer: The way cello players become famous depends on a lot of factors. It can depend on the number of players out there and if a cello player grew up with musicians as parents or not.
Starting their training early on and going to a good music school may also help. However, it’s also useful for a cellist to be unique in some way, such as by focusing on a specific genre or era of music.
Answer: Yo-Yo Ma is probably the most famous cello player. I knew about him before I ever got serious about playing music, and a lot of non-musicians know who he is.
However, the most famous cellist depends on how you define famous. Mstislav Rostropovich and Pablo Casals are famous cellists of the past, and they were just as good as Yo-Yo Ma.
Answer: The amount of money cello players make depends on various things, such as level of fame. A cellist who makes more recordings and gives more concerts will probably make less than someone who doesn’t work as much.
Teaching, composing, and other income streams may also affect how much someone earns. It can be hard to estimate how much a specific cellist makes in a year, but it can be fun to guess.
Answer: Some famous cellists play the music of Bach, Elgar, and other classical composers. This is the case for a lot of cellists since the cello is typically a classical instrument.
However, groups like 2CELLOS and Pentatonix use the cello in pop and rock music. So a famous cellist could probably play whatever kind of music they want.
Answer: The internet has made it easier for aspiring cellists to get their names out there. However, you’ll still need time to practice and learn your instrument well.
Having lessons from a young age can help. You may also want to find a way to set yourself apart, such as playing pop music or doing something visual. Then, you can prove to audiences and booking agents that you have something to offer.
Final Note On Famous Cello Players
Whether you want to play the cello or just listen, you should know about some famous cello players. There are a lot of amazing cellists out there, but some are more famous than others.
Yo-Yo Ma is probably the most famous cellist alive today. Pablo Casals and Mstistlav Rostropovich are two of the most famous of all time.
However, you should also listen to younger musicians, such as Sheku Kanneh-Mason or 2CELLOS. Then, you can learn from up-and-coming-cellists as well.
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