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Farewell Slava
by Thanos Kalamidas
2007-04-28 10:02:14
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It is a month ago since many of us watched on our television screens a very old Mstislav "Slava"* Rostropovich walking with the assistance of the Russian president Vladimir Putin and entering a Kremlin hall where he celebrated his 80th birthday. As he said himself very slowly and with a real effect that was a really big honor for him and nothing could keep him away from it.

ovi_slava01_400I think the entire honor is ours and personas like Mstislav Rostropovich don’t belong only to Russia but are part of an economic history we should preserve in any way. To use Putin’s words: Rostropovich was not only a brilliant cellist and a gifted conductor but with his personality and the weight of his popularity he became a critical defender of the human rights when his country needed that more than anything. His stand to defend Alexander Soltzhenitsyn from the Soviet state cost him twenty years in exile where he continued opposing the Soviet state.

The cello is not an easy instrument, not easily recognizable and definitely not popular, or at least it was all that till Rostropovich appeared and if you want to understand what I mean you must listen to Prokofiev’s Cello concertino, something Rostropovich finished with Dmitri Kabalevsky after the composer’s death. A magnificent piece where the big man embraces the cello becomes one with it and you can hear his breath through the notes. The man gave personality to the instrument and that was the reason composers like Shostakovich, Khachaturian, Bernstein, Britten and others composed music inspired from his playing and talent.

For the ones who have seen it, you must remember the way Rostropovich was embracing the cello, the way he was becoming one with the instrument on the stage and the soft way he was moving while he was playing. It is so odd, a few years after I saw him playing cello I had the luck to see him conducting as well. It was exactly the same presentation, the big man on the podium that softly moved with the music and you had the idea that he was still holding the big cello.

The recordings of Rostropovich’s cello performances are classic and definitely part of every classic music lover’s collection. I would say his performances with Shostakovich’s composes are my personal favorites.

Regarding his political side I would say that it was natural for a man who had devoted his life into art, a man who believed that art has no frontiers and restrictions; it was natural to react badly to a regime full of restrictions and controls. Especially when that came to his close friend Alexander Soltzhenitsyn and you can sense how heavy were all these restrictions comparing his activities till 1974 when he was in Russia and his activities after 1974. Founder of music festivals and organizer of a series of events that promoted classic music to new and younger listeners.

Mstislav Rostropovich died on the 27th of April 2007 after being hospitalized since February with a small break for his 80th birthday.

*Slava, an affection nick-name often used by his friends and pupils.

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