Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007)

Mstislav Rostropovich was a Russian cellist, pianist, conductor, pedagogue and political figure whose international performances and public appearances symbolized the struggle of intellectuals against the rigid Soviet Communism.
He was born Mstislav Leopoldovich Rostropovich on March 27, 1927, in Baku, Azerbaijan, Soviet Union. His father, Leopold Rostropovich, was a notable musician and pedagogue of Polish nobility descent. His mother was a concert pianist of Russian-Jewish heritage. His teachers at Moscow Conservatory were Dmitri Shostakovich, and Sergei Prokofiev, and both became his main musical influences for life. In 1951 Rostropovich was awarded the State Stalin's Prize, after his numerous victories at international competitions and a growing stream of recognition and acclaim. in 1955 he married opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya who was a member of Bolshoi Theatre. At that time his stage partners were such musicians as Svyatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels along with his wife Galina Vishnevskaya.
In 1969 Rostropovich saved his friend, dissident writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn from prosecution. At that time Solzhenitsyn needed a place to hide from the Soviet authorities. An arrangement was made for Solzhenitsyn to live secretly at Rostropovich's dacha, a summer cabin outside of Moscow. This angered the Soviet Communists, and Rostropovich was banned from international tours and royalties. His performances in the Soviet Union were also banned, his income was drastically reduced, and his musical activity was limited to teaching. The Soviet authorities put severe pressure on Rostropovich by restricting his communication with the world and by ignoring his numerous invitations to perform at international festivals and competitions.
In 1974, after years of struggle with the Soviet dictatorship, Rostropovich fled the Soviet Union with his wife and two daughters, Olga and Elena. He became a much more relaxed person in exile, living the artistic freedom he had so longed for, and did not want to go back until the fall of the oppressive Soviet regime. In 1977 Rostropovich was appointed Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) in Washington, DC, the post he kept for the next seventeen years. Soon after Rostropovich became employed in the USA, his Soviet citizenship was revoked by Leonid Brezhnev in 1978. during the 1970s and 1980s Rostropovich enjoyed a very active concert career; he toured extensively as a cellist as well as an internationally acclaimed orchestra conductor and pedagogue. He also made numerous recordings of cello music and became recognized as arguably the world's best cellist of his time. Being also a good pianist, Rostropovich accompanied his wife, opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya on her numerous international concert tours.
In 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev restored their citizenship of Russia (then Soviet Union), allowing Rostropovich to return back home. His return happened during the most dramatic events of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. At that time Rostropovich joined the Russian President Yeltsin during the August coup of the hard-line communists against Mikhail Gorbachev. Eventually Rostropovich established himself as an internationally recognized cultural, political and intellectual figure of the new Russia. His music performances as well as his public statements were equally acclaimed and respected by all freedom-loving people.
Rostropovich returned to the new Russia and continued his career as a musician and public figure. He lived in his homes in Moscow and in St. Petersburg and remained active in cultural and political life. He died of a heart failure at the age of 80, on April 27, 2007, in Moscow, and was laid to rest in Novodevichy Semetery in Moscow Russia. His honors include: Recipient of Order of Service to the Fatherland medal of Russia (2007). Honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire, a Commander of the Legion of Honor of France, a Commander of the Phoenix Order of Greece, holder of the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Kennedy Center Honoree, the State Stalin's Prize (1951), the title People's Artist of the USSR (1956), and the Defender of Free Russia Medal (1993).


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