Friday, April 27, 2007

Mstislav Rostropovich

Today the world lost one of it's greatest musicians: Mstislav Rostropovich. Not only was he a master of the cello, Rostropovich was a gifted conductor and pianist, accompanying his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya.

I know the world will discuss his recordings and performances today, but what I most admired about Rostropovich was his ability to use his enthusiasm and talents to defend others who were unable to think and act freely due to political or artistic oppression.

Hindsight may diminish the bravery of those who choose to take a stand for what they believe in, but I think we are extremely susceptible to the pressures of fitting in, of not rocking the boat, of not wanting to be out of fashion. But time and time again, Rostropovich's choices both as an artist and a human being proved to be the correct ones.

When the contemporary music scene was dominated by composers who followed Pierre Boulez, Rostropovich continued to support composers like Britten, Henze and Dutilleux who were no less rigorous than the serialists, but whose music didn't reject the grace, beauty and sensuous pleasure of the previous 200 years of music making. He supported the Polish composers after the political thaw of the late '50 and '60, and had he not come to the aid of Alfred Schnittke, how much more music would we have lost from this master had Rostropovich not offered him commission after commission, allowing Schnittke to complete some of his finest works before his untimely death.

But when Rostropovich and his wife harbored Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn when he was on the run, his sacrifices could not have been more personal. Here, Rostropovich put his own life at risk because of his belief in the freedom of all people to express themselves without fear of persecution, imprisonment, torture or even death. And while we can all say that was a different time, in a different country, we know that the world's capacity for this kind of oppression has not diminished in the intervening years, but has grown to encompass east and west, rich and poor, democracies and dictatorships, and yet the members of the artistic community who act as selflessly as Rostropovich grows fewer and fewer. As always, we took Slava for granted when he was alive, but let's not forget his example in our own lives, no matter what our vocation or profession might be.

1 comment:

Alison Thomas said...

That's a beautiful tribute.