Monday, February 21, 2011

Mstislav Rostropovich

A video of two Croatian cellists (see below) has been steadily gaining popularity over the past few weeks, so, in honor of that, I decided to focus upon a particular Russian cellist in this unit's blog post...

Mstislav Rostropovich, who passed away almost four years ago, was considered to be one of the greatest cellists of all time. He gained popularity during World War II and the subsequent Cold War period of Russia.
In fact, he first won an international Music Award at the age of twenty, which was followed by a Stalin Prize at the age of twenty-three. The latter was, at the time, considered to be the highest distinction in the Soviet Union.
Despite this, Rostropovich found himself harassed by the Soviet regime for promoting democratic values, freedom of speech, and "art without borders." At the age of twenty-one, his instructor at the Moscow Conservatory was dismissed because he was labelled as a "formalist composer;" Rostropovich subsequently dropped out in protest, as well. Much later, in 1970, he sheltered Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, an outspoken Soviet author, and found himself officially disgraced in the Union. As a result, he was even restricted from performing abroad, and was sent on a tour to small towns in Siberia.
By 1974, Rostropovich had decided to leave the Soviet Union in favor of settling in the United States (this was actually the same year that Solzhenitsyn was exiled from the USSR, as well). His Soviet citizenship was revoked in 1978 because of his opposition to the country's restriction of cultural freedom, and he did not return to Russia until 1990.
After moving to the United States, Rostropovich served as the musical director and conductor of the U.S. National Symphony Orchestra from 1977 to 1994. He also founded the Rostropovich Music Festival, and performed quite often at the Aldeburgh Festival in the Unuited Kingdom. The cellist even gained international fame during the fall of the Berlin Wall, due to his impromptu performance in front of the structure.
Finally, Rostropovich and his wife formed a valuable art collection that included over four hundred pieces. In order to preserve the collection, and to bring it to Russia, a billionaire named Alisher Usmanov purchased all of the works for a price "substantially higher" than ₤20 million.

Random Fact: He was buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery on April 29, 2007. His friend, Boris Yeltsin, was buried in the same cemetery on April 25, 2007.

(Smooth Criminal Cover - Stjepan Hauser and Luka Sulic)

Also, here are the same two cellists performing a piece by another Soviet composer, Dmitri Shostakovich:

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