Ronald Leonard



Competition Winner

Born: (Rhode Island)

Ronald Leonard is an American cellist with a distinguished career as a soloist, chamber musician, teacher, and as the former principal cellist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a position that he held for 24 years. With the Los Angeles Philharmonic, he was a guest soloist many times performing works by Haydn, Dvorak, Berio, Barber, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Brahms, Lalo, Elgar, Strauss, among others. Conductors he played under included Zubin Mehta, Carlo Maria Giulini, Simon Rattle, Michael Tilson Thomas, Mariss Jansons, Andre Previn, and Esa-Pekka Salonen.

In 1955, he was named a winner in the Walter W. Naumburg Competition, winning the award while a student at Curtis, where he studied with Leonard Rose and Orlando Cole. His first professional position was as a cellist in the Cleveland Orchestra, becoming the principal cellist of the Rochester Philharmonic two years later.

A renowned teacher, he taught at Eastman for 17 years. He also taught at the USC Thornton School of Music, where from 1993 to 2003, he held the post of "Gregor Piatigorsky Endowed Chair in Violoncello", following Piatigorsky and Lynn Harrell. For almost 30 years he also taught at the Colburn School, retiring in 2018.

He has also been an artist/performer at many summer music festivals: Aspen, Marlboro, Meadowmount, the Australian Music Festival, Musicorda, Bowdoin, Summerfest in La Jolla, and the Sarasota Music Festival.

In his many years of chamber music performances he has played with many of the world's leading musicians, including Rudolf Serkin, Leonard Rose, Isaac Stern, Jaime Laredo, Richard Goode, Peter Serkin, Joseph Silverstein, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Yefim Bronfman, and Yo-Yo Ma. He has also been a guest artist with some of the world's finest string quartets, including the Guarneri, Borromeo, Juilliard, and American Quartets.

Ronald Leonard's cello is a Pietro Guarneri Mantua, 1695.

Pietro Guarneri of Mantua, 1695

Ronald Leonard, former principal cellist of the LA Philharmonic for 24 years, tells the story of how he came to play the only known cello by Pietro Guarneri of Mantua, 1695

I had been borrowing a Pressenda cello that was not particularly fantastic from my former teacher, and when I had to give it back I started looking around. I heard about this Peter of Mantua cello for sale in New York around 1964. The previous owner was Luigi Silva, a famous cellist and major teacher in the US. When he died, his wife wanted to sell the cello, but she was suspicious of dealers and wanted to sell it herself.

I went to look at it, but it was a very difficult procedure since Mrs Silva was distraught over her husband’s death. I felt almost guilty that I was even trying the cello! But she did agree to allow me to play on it for a few days. I immediately fell in love with it and I’ve played it ever since.

Whilst it has an Andrea Guarneri label inside – and it was actually sold by Wurlitzer as such – it is in fact the only cello by Peter of Mantua in existence. At the time that didn’t seem like a big deal, but it really is quite a rarity to have the one instrument made by such a famous maker.

Ronald Leonard

I have used this cello through my entire life since I bought it. It’s not huge-sounding, but it projects very well, and it has a beautiful core to its sound. For me the colour variety and not just volume, is very important in an instrument – though there weren’t any problems with volume… well, at least I never had any complaints about not projecting when I was in the orchestra!

I have been tempted by some other instruments but this one has a uniqueness of sound which I find very appealing. When I was principal cellist of the LA Philharmonic I could have played their wonderful Stradivari cello [the ‘General Kyd, Leo Stern’ Stradivari of 1684] but I was never comfortable with it at the time. It has actually been repaired recently and it now sounds wonderful – Robert deMaine, the current principal cellist, now plays it and is very happy with it.


1955 Naumburg Competition

First Prize

Commissioned Works

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Naumburg Performances

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Recording Awards

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