Born in 1927 in Baku, Russia, Mstislav Rostropovich (b. 1927 – d. 2007) began piano lessons with his mother at the age of four, switching to cello studies with his father at the age of eight. He made his cello debut in 1940 and conducting debut in 1961 in Russia.
Mstislav Rostropovich is internationally recognized as an outspoken defender of human rights. Considered the world's greatest living cellist, he recorded virtually the entire cello repertoire over the course of his career. His dedication and passion inspired many of the world's finest composers such as Britten; Shostakovich; Prokofiev; Khatchaturian; Schnittke; Bernstein; Dutilleux and Lutoslawski to compose works especially for him. As the Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC, Rostropovich led the orchestra for seventeen seasons and maintained a special relationship with the organization as an honorary conductor thereafter. Rostropovich conducted many of the world's orchestras, and enjoyed a longtime relationship London's Symphony Orchestra. He often plays the piano in recital with his wife, Galina Vishnevskaya, the acclaimed soprano.
Rostropovich earned numerous awards including the Albert Schweitzer Music Award and the Ernst von Siemens Foundation Music Prize, previously given only to Benjamin Britten and Olivier Mesiaen. His recordings brought him the world's most-coveted recording prizes including a Grammy award and the Grand Prix du Disque. He held over 40 honorary degrees and over 30 different nations lavished more than 100 decorations and prizes upon him, including the Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Commander of the Légion d'Honneur of France, membership in the Academy of Arts of the French Institute, other called the "Forty Immortals", the Japan Art Association's Præmium Imperiale, and, from the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a Kennedy Center Honors Award in 1992. Prior to leaving the USSR for the West in 1974, he had received the Stalin Prize, had been named as the People's artist of the USSR, and received the Lenin Prize, the nation's highest honor. For his support to the democratic forces during the abortive coup in Moscow in August of 1991, Boris Yeltsin presented Rostropovich with the State Prize of Russia.
Mstislav Rostropovich's various efforts on behalf of human rights, artistic freedom, and humanitarian aid earned him various awards and medals, among them the 1974 Annual Award of the International League of Human Rights.
Rostropovich's worked with the London Symphony Orchestra on a number of major festivals. Among those festivals was his own 60th birthday series in 1987, Shostakovich: Music from the Flames (1988), a twelve concerts series celebrating the centenary of Sergei Prokofiev's birth in 1991, two more celebrating the music of Britten (1993) and Schnittke (1994), and his 70th birthday celebrations with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1997. His last recordings were with the London Symphony Orchestra and included the Shostakovich symphonies and works featuring young soloists just beginning their musical careers.
An artist, a conductor, a cellist, an intellectual and humanist, Medal of Freedom and Kennedy Center honoree, Mstislav Rostropovich died 27 April 2007 in Moscow, aged 80.
On a personal note....
"I was 26 years old and brand new leader of the London Symphony Orchestra when Slava came to london to play with the LSO, 30 concertos in 10 concerts in just three weeks, an incredible feat of stamina as well as a constant display of wonderful musicianship. I was mesmerised by his amazing tone control and noted that his bow never left close proximity to the bridge and as a result both timbre and projection were formidable. Each of the 30 works was performed to near perfection and of course memorised. When, towards the end of the cycle, we came to the Dvorak concerto and in rehearsal arrived at that part near the end of the final movement where the leader (concertmaster) plays the melody with the cello soloist accompanying I was aware of the great man watching me intently. I wondered what he thought of having a such a 'green' young chap sharing this gorgeous melody with him. When we reached that magic moment during the concert he suddenly swung around to half-face me and leant almost precipitously in my direction. The effect of this was to heighten my consciousness which made it feel as though he was drawing me along with him compelling me to play with a passion and fire that extracted the necessary projection to match his own. I remember that it seemed I had to do very little as he 'guided' me safely but movingly through that section. It was one of the most memorable and inspiring moments of my leading career and I, like most musicians who worked with him, thereafter adored him for his devotion to music and musicians and his human warmth. His visits were without doubt amongst the greatest highlights of the LSO's busy schedule."
John Georgiadis - LSO Leader 1965-1979