Playlist: Inspired by Slava

Guest Sat 18th February 2017

Rostropovich was instrumental in expanding the cello repertoire during his lifetime, as these recordings demonstrate

In 1976, for the 70th birthday of the conductor Paul Sacher, his friend Mstislav Rostropovich commissioned from 12 different composers a set of variations on a theme (entrusted to Benjamin Britten) based on the letters of Sacher’s name. The list of contributors serves to illustrate Rostropovich’s status among the leading musicians of the 

20th century with variations by Boulez, Lutoslawski, Dutilleux and Berio. In his 65-year career as cellist and conductor, Rostropovich contributed, through his commissions and premieres, over 100 new works to the repertoire. He made his debut at the age of 13, and it was only six years later that Glière dedicated his Cello Concerto to the young cellist. Later, in 1983, the Polish composer Penderecki also wrote his Second Cello Concerto for Rostropovich. Although the composition of Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango predated the Penderecki by a year, it was not until 1990 that Rostropovich, its dedicatee, first performed the piece, which is a fusion of traditional tango and jazz. The Rostropovich Cello Competition, launched in 1977, was a rich source of new solo cello repertoire. Xenakis’s masterpiece of extended techniques, Kottos, was written for that first year, and Schnittke’s Improvisation for Cello Solo commissioned for the competition in 1994. Concert à quatre, for flute, oboe, cello, piano and orchestra was one of Messiaen’s last works, and he died leaving it unfinished. The Georgian Giya Kancheli has also expressed his gratitude for Rostropovich’s championing of his music. Kancheli wrote his 1995 work Simi for the cellist. Later in his life Rostropovich concentrated more on conducting, and in the mid 1990s commissioned the Scottish composer James MacMillan to write a triptych of orchestral works (Triduum) for the LSO. There are two concertos, for cor anglais and for cello, and a symphony, which Rostropovich premiered in 1997. The final word in the playlist however, must go to Rostropovich himself, who wrote his high-spirited showpiece Humoresque as a birthday gift for his teacher. Helen Cocks

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