Mstislav Rostropovich was a fiery figure in both his conducting, which was full of energy and enthusiasm, and in personal affairs surrounding Soviet rule in Russia. It is no surprise that Rostropovich, admired wide and far for this vitality, was a conductor for whom many renown composers wrote their classical works.
Rostropovich was a Russian cellist, pianist, and conductor who was born into a family of musicians and studied with many great teachers and mentors. Eventually immersing himself in composition with Shostakovich and Shebalin, Rostropovich graduated from the Moscow Conservatory with highest distinction. He went on to compose piano concertos and piano pieces. The awards continued as he received the Royal Philharmonic Society’s gold medal in 1970 and went on to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the United States.
Mstislav Rostropovich’s British conducting debut was in March 1974 at Festival Hall with New Philharmonia Orchestra. His uncanny ability to phrase and range of colour that audiences admired, at times cost precision of performance from the orchestras in which he led, this occasion being one of those times. However, he was exceptionally skilled at understanding the intention of composers from classics to contemporary which gave bravado to his conducting. He premiered in the United States in New York City’s Carnegie Hall.
Composers such as Prokofiev and his former teacher Shostakovich wrote works for Rostropovich. An eventual friendship between the conductor and the composer Benjamin Britten developed into a long term artistic partnership that inspired Britten to abandon his previous emphasis on vocal works and begin composing instrumental music that Rostropovich was the first to premiere.
Rostropovich’s opera conducting debut was in Moscow in 1968 alongside his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya withYevgeny Onegin. He went on to record many operas includingWar and Peace and The Queen of Spades. Additional recordings included all standard cello repertoire and newer cello pieces that were written specially for him.
From 1977 until 1944, Rostropovich served as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. During this time he also guest conducted at the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra with whom he recorded all the Tchaikovsky symphonies and made the first recording of Shostakovich’sLady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.
Mstislav’s personal life was one full of rebellion to the Soviet occupation of Russia for which he is a notable figure in supporting artistic freedom. His actions caused him to be exiled from the country and he did not return until 1990 when he was on tour with the National Symphony Orchestra. It is noted that he honoured the changed political atmosphere by performing Bach at the demolition site of the Berlin Wall just a few years earlier in 1989.
After suffering from a long illness which was thought to be intestinal cancer, Mstislav Rostropovich passed away in his home of Moscow. He has just celebrated his 80th birthday where Russian President, Vladimir V. Putin had presented him with a medal, the Order of Service to the Fatherland.