March 01, 2002

World Citizen

Cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich (1927) turns 75 on March 27. Born in Baku (capital of Azerbaidzhan), Rostropovich took his first music lessons from his father—a teacher at the Baku Conservatory. He then pursued his musical education at the music school in Orenburg, where the family evacuated to during WWII. In 1946, Rostropovich graduated from the Moscow Conservatory as a cellist and immediately began a career as a soloist with the Moscow Philharmonia. He toured the USSR and foreign countries and soon gained international fame. In 1960, he became a professor at the Moscow Conservatory. “The virtuosity of Professor Mstislav Rostropovich has inspired many cello works to be written especially for him,” wrote Soviet `Life magazine in October 1966. Indeed, Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitry Shostakovich both wrote works specially for the cellist.

In 1954, Rostropovich met his future wife—the singer Galina Vishnevskaya—in Prague. In the 1970s, Rostropovich became involved in human rights, especially in the support of his friend, dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn. This inevitably ended in a conflict with Soviet authorities and, in 1977, Rostropovich left the USSR with his family. In 1978, Rostropovich was stripped of his Soviet citizenship (restored in 1990). From 1977 to 1994, he led the National Symphonic Orchestra in Washington.

A true “citizen of the world,” Rostropovich is friend to many state leaders and cultural personalities. After the advent of perestroika, Rostropovich often performed concerts featuring hitherto forbidden musical works. He was a strong supporter of the political and economic reforms undertaken by Boris Yeltsin, with whom he has a close friendship. Not surprisingly, in August 1991, Rostropovich openly joined the ranks of Yeltsin’s supporters in the defense of the White House against an attack by the putchists.

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