April 27, 2007
Mstislav Rostropovich, one of the world’s greatest musicians, was celebrated as cellist, conductor, teacher, and an ardent proponent of human rights. He possessed transcendental artistry and a truly magnetic personality. "Slava" (as he was known throughout the world) was feted on his 80th birthday at the Kremlin and on his 75th birthday (2002) in virtually every European country, Japan, and throughout the Americas. He also was honored with an official state dinner at Buckingham Palace hosted by HM Queen Elizabeth II. Many important portions of his massive discography were released by Deutsche Grammophon and EMI in connection with recent milestone birthdays.
He made his conducting debut with Gorky State Philharmonic Orchestra (1962), an all-Russian program (Shostakovich, Mussorgsky, and Prokofiev). In 1975, Maestro Rostropovich made his United States conducting debut with the National Symphony Orchestra, and a few weeks later was named Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra (Washington, D.C.) to begin in 1977. Spanning 17 years, he conducted over 500 works with the NSO, including world premières of The Polish Requiem (Penderecki), Symphony No. 6 (Schnittke), Novelette (Lutoslawski), and Timbres, Espace, Mouvement (Dutilleux). Other milestones of his tenure included many international tours, including two trips to Russia – 1990 and 1993. During the latter tour, Rostropovich led the National Symphony in the first orchestral concert ever given in Red Square.
Maestro Rostropovich was responsible for implementing Shostakovich music festivals in St. Petersburg (1997), London (1998), Tokyo (1998), Chicago (1999), and New York (2002), as well festivals dedicated to Prokofiev (1991), Britten (1993), and Schnittke (1994).
Throughout his life he was devoted to contemporary music and used his prominence to further its performances. Composers with whom Maestro Rostropovich forged deep musical bonds included: Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Britten, James MacMillan, Dutilleux, and Bernstein, among others.
His discography includes complete operas - Pique Dame, Eugene Onegin, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Tosca - as well as cycles of symphonic music - Shostakovich symphonies (complete) and Songs and Dances of Death (Mussorgsky, arranged by Shostakovich), the complete violin concerti of both Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and a DVD of Bach’s Suites published by EMI among others. These recordings, alongside his discography as cellist, garnered international awards – including the Grammy, Gramophon, Academie Charles Cros, and Academie du Disque Francais. Among his noteworthy recordings with the National Symphony were symphonies by Shostakovich, and Boris Godunov, nominated for a Grammy for Best Opera Recording.
Rostropovich was internationally recognized as a defender of human rights. His tireless work insuring human dignity included a courageous defense of Alexander Solzhenitsyn during the Soviet regime and an August 1991 trip to Moscow at great risk to join those in the Russian “White House” resisting the attempted coup. For this act, Maestro Rostropovich was awarded the State Prize of Russia.
Rostropovich and his wife, the distinguished soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, established a foundation dedicated to the “Health and Future of Children in Russia” with branches in several Russian cities, providing free vaccinations (through mid-2004 over 2 million children had been vaccinated) and building medical facilities for children throughout Russia.
Mstislav Rostropovich held over 50 honorary degrees, and more than 130 major awards were bestowed upon him, including: Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Commander of the Legion of Honor of France, Presidential Medal of Freedom (USA), and he shared the Polar Prize (musical equivalent to the Nobel Prize) with Sir Elton John (May 1995). Early in his career, Maestro Rostropovich was named a People’s Artist (USSR) and received the Lenin Prize (highest honor of the USSR.)
Born in Baku, Azerbijan, March 27, 1927, Rostropovich served as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra from 1977 until 1994, and at that time was named Conductor Laureate, a position he held for the rest of his life.
He is survived by his wife, their two daughters, Olga and Elena, and several grandchildren.