One of the great cellists of recent years, Rostropovich inspired or commissioned over 100 works including major contributions to the cello literature by his friends Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Schnittke and Britten. He left the USSR in 1974 with his wife, the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, and remained a staunch critic of the repressive cultural regime. From 1977-94 he was conductor of Washington DC’s National Symphony Orchestra.
Rostropovich: a tribute by Steven Isserlis
'There are very few musical performers who have earned the same sort of immortality as the great composers. One of these few is Mstislav Rostropovich, the great Russian cellist who, through his amazing playing and his irresistible powers of persuasion, managed to wring out major works for cello from an almost endless succession of major composers, from Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Britten to Dutilleux, Lutosławski, Boris Tchaikovsky, Schnittke, Shchedrin… Slava was a unique, irreplaceable personality; he seemed to epitomise the word ‘charisma’. I remember one of the first times I heard him live (I must have been about 11), at the premiere of the Lutosławski Concerto. Slava came on stage looking as if he’d never heard applause before, bowing over and over again with an expression of utter delight suffusing his features; the audience was in his spell within seconds. Then he sat down, his chin jutted out alarmingly, and he launched into the concerto – from memory, of course – with such total conviction and power that by the end of the performance, everyone present knew that the concerto was now part of the cello repertoire. What a magician!'