Longtime member of The Cleveland Orchestra also played jazz, craved adventure.
Lawrence Benjamin Angell played double bass for The Cleveland Orchestra from 1955 to 1995, an appointment made by legendary music director George Szell. Angell was also a member of the string faculty at Oberlin from 1980 to 1990, preparing student musicians for positions in major orchestras across the country and around the world. Throughout his life, he indulged a passion for adventure that included piloting his own plane—often with luminaries aboard—and skydiving.
As a young musician, Angell studied with Oscar Zimmerman at the Interlochen Center for the Arts until he was summoned to serve in the Korean War. Trained as a cannoneer, he was assigned instead to the 7th Infantry Division Band and Jazz Band and performed for fellow soldiers on the front lines. Following his service, he resumed studies with Zimmerman at the Eastman School of Music, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees as well as a performer’s certificate. While still a student, Angell performed with the Rochester Philharmonic under Erich Leinsdorf before his appointment by Szell to The Cleveland Orchestra, of which he eventually became principal bass. Over the course of his career, he took part in the creation of some 500 recordings.
In addition to his work at Oberlin, Angell served on the bass faculty at the Cleveland Institute of Music from 1969 to 1999, and he was an active coach and teacher at festivals around the country. He is remembered by former students as a kind and generous teacher.
After retiring, he coauthored the well-received book Tales from the Locker Room: An Anecdotal Portrait of George Szell and His Cleveland Orchestra, which explored the music director’s genius through interviews with numerous orchestra members.
Angell harbored a profound love of classical music as well as jazz, which he enjoyed playing at various Cleveland clubs and restaurants. He was also a licensed pilot, and he delighted in taking the likes of Pierre Boulez, Leon Fleisher, and others for rides in his single-engine plane. A man of numerous and varied hobbies, Angell enjoyed tennis, bodybuilding, art, race cars, and riding motorcycles in any weather—a habit that earned him the nickname “Szell’s Angell.”
Catharina Meints, a longtime professor of cello and viola da gamba at Oberlin, became friends with Angell in the early 1970s, at the outset of her 35-year career with The Cleveland Orchestra. She was struck by his broad range of interests away from the stage—a rarity among orchestra members in those days—and his unique approach to playing.
“He played the bass differently from most bass players,” she says. “He approached it more like a cello, and his favorite accomplishment was performing [Bloch’s cello piece] Schelomo on the bass.”
“Larry was a real bass character,” says Peter Dominguez, Oberlin’s professor of double bass and jazz bass, who met Angell at an International Society of Bassists conference in the 1990s and invited him to lead a master class at Oberlin in 2013. “He always had a relevant story and experience that he shared freely, with his undeniable wit and charm.”
Angell died December 3, 2017. He is survived by his wife of 36 years, classical pianist Anita Pontremoli; five children; and four grandchildren. His life will be celebrated at a 1:30 p.m. memorial service Saturday, February 10, at the Cleveland Institute of Music’s Mixon Hall. Peter Dominguez will perform.