photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVICH was one of the towering musicians of the 20th century and arguably the greatest CELLIST that ever lived. his playing very much seemed to be an extension of ego, and it is difficult to discern another musician as utterly engrossed and emotionally committed to his/her instrument with an equal sense of sheer ABANDONMENT and UNINHIBITEDNESS. ROSTROPOVICH was a transformational musician historically as he expanded cello repertoire beyond the established works of JOSEPH HAYDN, FRANZ SCHUBERT, ANTONIN DVORAK, ROBERT SCHUMANN and JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH through personal and professional relationships with MODERN COMPOSERS such as SERGEI PROKOFIEV, DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH, BENJAMIN BRITTEN, HENRI DUTILLEUX and WITOLD LOTISLAWSKI. these later composers often wrote cello concertos specifically with him in mind and took advantage of his preternatural virtuosity and deep well of emotional capacity on his instrument.
what makes the recent documentary ROSTROPOVICH: THE GENIUS OF CELLO (BBC, 2011) so compelling is how it paints a portrait of a man whose personal attributes and loyalties seemingly shone just as bright as his artistic accomplishments by those that knew and loved him. specifically former pupils, peers and his immediate family are all interviewed participants in this film. like many SOVIET artists before him (and arguably even RUSSIAN artists before that during the TSARIST reign like PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY, LEO TOLSTOY and ILYA REPIN) there is this dilemma of carrying on as an empathetic, open-minded figure while living in what is effectively a TOTALITARIAN state. paraded as an example of SOVIET exceptionalism since his late teens, and afforded amenities by the state foreign to all but a few of his fellow countrymen, it was ROSTROPOVICH's choice to board author ALEXANDR SOLZHENITSYN (of ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH fame) at his country home that served as his greatest achievement. this is since this decision effectively estranged him from the SOVIET elites, who sent him to live in exile with his family in SIBERIA for several years. he was belittled and professionally written out of history by the major cultural figures in his homeland during that period, only later praised by his countrymen after the fall of the SOVIET UNION and amid the clamor of universal worldwide accolades. it is odd that RUSSIA has this habit of ostracizing their most creative minds and later holding them up as paragons of NATIONALIST exceptionalism, partly due to their survival from being snuffed out in the first place.
in my estimation, the choice of ROSTROPOVICH to bypass his own security and financial well-being in order to aid his fellow creative SOLZHENITSYN is emblematic of his immense COURAGE and moral righteousness in the face of state sanctioned INTIMIDATION and outright DESPOTISM. it is a commitment that is shared by that of his musicianship, which are both gifts that will ring down throughout further generations. here is a musician and a man worthy of celebration.