Emil Klein began his career as a cellist, initially scoring successes as a chamber music player, then as a soloist and recitalist. He eventually turned to conducting and founded his own orchestra, the Hamburg Soloists, a group consisting of about 15 members. He performed with them both as a conductor and cello soloist and led them in numerous, often highly acclaimed recordings for Arte Nova Classics. As a cello soloist and chamber player, Klein has recorded for several different labels, including CPO and MD&G. Klein ended up as one of those heartrending, tragic figures in music: as he seemed to be approaching the zenith of his career with triumph exceeding triumph, he died just before his 49th birthday in 2004.
Klein was born in Roman, Romania, on May 5, 1955. He was a precocious child, beginning lessons on the cello at the age of four. His first advanced studies were at the Liceo di Musica di Iasi in Romania. He continued music instruction at the Ciprian Porumbescu Conservatory in Bucharest and concluded his studies in Hamburg, Germany, where he relocated in 1978. There his primary teacher was cello virtuoso David Geringas.
Geringas mentored Klein in the early years of his career, taking him on as his assistant in 1985 for three years. During this time the two played in the Geringas Baryton Trio and made several recordings together. Klein also played in the Sonare Trio, a group with which he recorded the complete quartets of Ernst Krenek, an endeavor that drew wide acclaim from European critics.
By the early '90s Klein was performing as a soloist in the world's major concert venues and with the most respected orchestras, including those of Philadelphia, Vienna, Berlin, and London. In 1995 he founded the aforementioned Hamburg Soloists and immediately made a string of successful recordings. Among the earlier releases were a pair from 1998 for Arte Nova Classics: the Boccherini Cello Concertos, Vol. 1, and Symphonies 1-6 of C.P.E. Bach.
That same year Klein's health began to sharply decline and several surgeries became necessary. He struggled to continue his career in the new century, appearing regularly in concert and on recordings. Klein gave his last concert in Brescia, Italy, on March 11, 2004, performing Friedrich Gulda's Cello Concerto. His award-winning recording of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, originally released in 1995, was reissued in 2005 on Arte Nova.