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Death of David Wells

Founder of Yellow Barn Festival Served on NEC Faculty

NEC Mourns the Death of David Wells, Cellist, Former Faculty, Founder of Yellow Barn Music Festival

Just a few weeks after the music festival he founded celebrated his 85th birthday, David Wells, cellist and animating spirit of the Yellow Barn Music Festival, has died.  A member of the Conservatory faculty from 1983—2001, Wells maintained close ties with NEC with faculty and students always a significant presence at the Putney, Vermont chamber music retreat. To read a remembrance of Wells on the Yellow Barn website and leave your recollections, click here
Wells, a native of East Chicago, Indiana, studied at the Manhattan School of Music with cellists Diran Alexanian and Raya Garbousova. He performed as a soloist and chamber musician and was best known for his performances of the Bach Cello Suites for unaccompanied cello. He was a former member of the Manhattan Trio, the Hartt String Quartet, and the Columbia Concert Trio. He also toured and performed extensively with his pianist wife Janet, who co-founded Yellow Barn with him. As a teacher, Wells served on the faculties of the Manhattan School where he was Chair of Chamber Music, and the Hartt School of Music, as well as NEC.

Established in 1969, Yellow Barn was originally envisioned as an informal summer retreat for Wells’ cello students, with performances taking place in the barn attached to the Wells home in Putney (see photo). The Wells' neighbors embraced this vibrant addition to their community, which was named by a participant for the color of the Wells’ farm house, cooking meals for the musicians and organizing concerts for the town.

Underlying the enterprise was a set of values that the festival website encapsulates:
“Humility in recreating a musical score, and the craft and conviction needed to communicate it meaningfully, frame the interpreter's quest. It is this quest that, above all else, informs Yellow Barn's educational philosophy.”

Over the ensuing decades, Yellow Barn evolved into one of the finest chamber music training and performance centers in the world. Currently, pianist and NEC alumnus Seth Knopp is Artistic Director of the festival and Catherine Stephan, a former cello student of Wells and past Executive Director of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, is Executive Director.

In 2008 Yellow Barn settled eight rehearsal and practice studios into the nearby Greenwood School campus. These studios are the physical cornerstone of a close nurturing relationship with that school.  In addition to the summer chamber music classes and performances, Yellow Barn, also offers performer residencies during the fall-winter season through which musicians can devote concentrated time and focus on special projects. So, for example, several NEC students were participants in a 2009 project preparing György Kurtág’s difficult and elusive Kafka Fragments.

At this summer’s annual birthday bash for Wells, 12 Yellow Barn cellists performed the Bach Cello Suites along with works of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Raskatov, and Lutoslawski in two concerts. Among NEC faculty, alumni, and students participating were Michael Katz, Ahrim Kim, Gwen Krosnick, Christine Lamprea, and Natasha Brofsky. Violinist Donald Weilerstein, who holds the Dorothy Richard Starling Chair in Violin Studies, played in the Schubert Piano Trio in E-flat Major. Other NEC musicians teaching at Yellow Barn this summer include Laurence Lesser, Kim Kashkashian, Roger Tapping, Vivian Hornik Weilerstein.

Lesser offered this tribute to Wells: “David joined the NEC faculty in 1983, just as I became its president.  He was a wonderful teacher, totally devoted to his students, and a very warm and caring person.  A perfect colleague, David played frequently on First Monday at Jordan Hall (he was especially gifted as a chamber player).  He lived all the while in Putney, Vermont, where he and his wife Janet founded the festival. The actual yellow barn still sits just behind the Wells home and was the site of innumerable concerts over the years. I last visited with David a few months ago and found the same warm friend I had always known.  It is sad that he is gone, but he left behind an important legacy of students and the wonderful festival he created.”

Yellow Barn friends and family will celebrate Wells’ life at a Memorial Service, Sunday, August 12 at 3:00pm at The Yellow Barn.


Recognized nationally and internationally as a leader among music schools, New England Conservatory in Boston, MA offers rigorous training in an intimate, nurturing community to 720 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral music students from around the world.  Its faculty of 225 boasts internationally esteemed artist-teachers and scholars.  Its alumni go on to fill orchestra chairs, concert hall stages, jazz clubs, recording studios, and arts management positions worldwide.  Nearly half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is composed of NEC trained musicians and faculty.

The oldest independent school of music in the United States, NEC was founded in 1867 by Eben Tourjee. Its curriculum is remarkable for its wide range of styles and traditions.  On the college level, it features training in classical, jazz, contemporary improvisation, world and early music. Through its Preparatory School, School of Continuing Education, and Community Programs and Partnerships Program, it provides training and performance opportunities for children, pre-college students, adults, and seniors.  Through its outreach projects, it allows young musicians to engage with non-traditional audiences in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes—thereby bringing pleasure to new listeners and enlarging the universe for classical music, jazz, and contemporary improvisation.

NEC presents more than 900 free concerts each year, many of them in Jordan Hall, its world- renowned, century-old, beautifully restored concert hall.  These programs range from solo recitals to chamber music to orchestral programs to jazz, contemporary improvisation, and opera scenes.  Every year, NEC’s opera studies department also presents two fully staged opera productions at the Cutler Majestic Theatre or Paramount Theatre in Boston.

NEC is co-founder and educational partner of From the Top, a weekly radio program that celebrates outstanding young classical musicians from the entire country. With its broadcast home in Jordan Hall, the show is now carried by National Public Radio and is heard on 250 stations throughout the United States.

Contact: Ellen Pfeifer
Public Relations Manager
New England Conservatory
290 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA 02115