Friday, April 27, 2007

In Memorium, Mstislav Rostropovich, Musician and Humanist, 1927 - 2007

Portrait of Rostropovich (right), as young performer and humanist, with Sergei Prokofiev, senior performer, composer, and humanist -- Moscow ca. 1950.

Such a musical meeting would be inconceivable in today's Nation's Capital -- Washington, D.C.

Prokofiev is represented by only one work on Sharon Rockefeller's new Classical WETA-FM Lite, in the Nation's Capital; where Rostropovich was ultimately unsuccessful in instilling a living classical music culture and where his calls for a national music conservatory were ignored by the musical Establishment and by Congress.

Rostropovich's other great mentor and friend, composer and humanist Dmitri Shostakovich, is not truly represented at all on the new Classical WETA-FM Lite, in the Nation's Capital; though occasionally snippets of Shostakovich's minor ballet music or jazz settings are performed for tokenist purposes. This morning, however, National Public Radio did intervene in the new Classical WETA-FM Lite's reactionary silliness by broadcasting a powerful passage from Shostakovich's great Symphony #5, when announcing Rostropovich's passing.

The last work that I heard Rostropovich perform as a cellist, in Washington, D.C., was Sofia Gubaidulina's Canticle of the Sun; with members of the NSO and Washington Chorus. I believe that one of the last works, if not the last work, that I heard Rostropovich conduct with the National Symphony was the world premiere of Alfred Schnittke's Symphony #6. Mr Schnittke was in the audience, though he looked very pale at the time.

Rostropovich also commissioned and permiered with the National Symphony two symphonies by Vyacheslav Artyomov; though Rostropovich was ultimately frustrated in his plan to give the North American premiere of Artyomov's Requiem to the Victims of Stalin's Terror at the Washington National Cathedral.

With sympathy to the Rostropovich family.

Photo credit: (c) Boosey and Hawkes, Ltd. via With thanks.


I first saw Rostropovich when he conducted an afternoon cello master class at Alfred Hertz Memorial Concert Hall, in Berkeley, in 1976. We revisited Hertz Hall last Wednesday noon where Graeme Jennings performed a superb solo violin recital, sponsored by the Italian Cultural Institute, of works by Berio, Donatoni, and Sciarrino. Rostropovich would certainly have approved of the seriousness of that recital in that it reflected his own musical vision of a living classical music tradition; a living tradition he ultimately found lacking in Washington, D.C.

[Rostropovich is forgiven for calling my wife N. "a little rabbit", a few summers ago.]


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