The Kennedy Center

Mstislav Rostropovich


Born in 1927 in Baku, Russia, Mstislav Rostropovich (b. 1927 – d. 2007) began piano lessons with his mother at the age of four, switching to cello studies with his father at the age of eight. He made his cello debut in 1940 and conducting debut in 1961 in Russia.

Mstislav Rostropovich is internationally recognized as an outspoken defender of human rights. Considered the world's greatest living cellist, he recorded virtually the entire cello repertoire over the course of his career. His dedication and passion inspired many of the world's finest composers such as Britten; Shostakovich; Prokofiev; Khatchaturian; Schnittke; Bernstein; Dutilleux and Lutoslawski to compose works especially for him. As the Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC, Rostropovich led the orchestra for seventeen seasons and maintained a special relationship with the organization as an honorary conductor thereafter. Rostropovich conducted many of the world's orchestras, and enjoyed a longtime relationship London's Symphony Orchestra. He often plays the piano in recital with his wife, Galina Vishnevskaya, the acclaimed soprano.

Rostropovich earned numerous awards including the Albert Schweitzer Music Award and the Ernst von Siemens Foundation Music Prize, previously given only to Benjamin Britten and Olivier Mesiaen. His recordings brought him the world's most-coveted recording prizes including a Grammy award and the Grand Prix du Disque. He held over 40 honorary degrees and over 30 different nations lavished more than 100 decorations and prizes upon him, including the Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Commander of the Légion d'Honneur of France, membership in the Academy of Arts of the French Institute, other called the "Forty Immortals", the Japan Art Association's Præmium Imperiale, and, from the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a Kennedy Center Honors Award in 1992. Prior to leaving the USSR for the West in 1974, he had received the Stalin Prize, had been named as the People's artist of the USSR, and received the Lenin Prize, the nation's highest honor. For his support to the democratic forces during the abortive coup in Moscow in August of 1991, Boris Yeltsin presented Rostropovich with the State Prize of Russia.

Mstislav Rostropovich's various efforts on behalf of human rights, artistic freedom, and humanitarian aid earned him various awards and medals, among them the 1974 Annual Award of the International League of Human Rights.

Rostropovich's worked with the London Symphony Orchestra on a number of major festivals. Among those festivals was his own 60th birthday series in 1987, Shostakovich: Music from the Flames (1988), a twelve concerts series celebrating the centenary of Sergei Prokofiev's birth in 1991, two more celebrating the music of Britten (1993) and Schnittke (1994), and his 70th birthday celebrations with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1997. His last recordings were with the London Symphony Orchestra and included the Shostakovich symphonies and works featuring young soloists just beginning their musical careers.

An artist, a conductor, a cellist, an intellectual and humanist, Medal of Freedom and Kennedy Center honoree, Mstislav Rostropovich died 27 April 2007 in Moscow, aged 80.

April 2007
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