Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Celebrating "Slava"

If you've never heard of Mstislav Rostropovich, you need to get acquainted. He's one of the most outstanding people you will ever meet, and he's going to be 80 in a few days, so you probably don't have decades in which to do that.

Rostropovich is one of the most remarkable musicians ever in a country that invented remarkable musicians--Russia. He is one of the one or two best cellists of the 20th century, he plays piano brilliantly, he's a coveted conductor and musical director. Unlike a lot of fellow musicians, who keep their heads down, he took a lot of personal risks. He was unafraid of the consequences when he took into his own house Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who had become persona non grata for the Soviet leaders after the publication of the Gulag Archipelago. He believed he was doing the right thing, and he paid the price--exile from his country. He didn't suffer financially at all, because he was a musical citizen of the world, welcomed everywhere. But he still lost his country for many years.

When Mikhail Gorbachev indicated he would like to see the exiles return, "Slava" eagerly accepted the invitation. In fact, when Gorbachev's Russia was in danger from a coup staged by Communist dead-enders in l991, Rostropovich dropped everything and flew to Moscow. He went straight to the Soviet Parliament building, where Boris Yeltsin was holed up, defying the Red Army to shoot people who were defending their Russian democracy. I doubt he had ever gotten close to a firearm, but there he was in the building, manning a window with an AK-47. This man had an extraordinarily comfortable life in the west, a cushy music director's gig in DC, and he puts his life on the line for his country. What a mensch!

"Slava" is the diminutive form of Rostropovich's name. It is a good thing for all of us, because it's practically impossible to say "Mstislav." It is also a fitting name for this man, because it means "glory."

Glory to Slava Rostropovich! Go get one of his solo works and listen to it. You won't be sorry for the acquaintance!


jodmeister said...

Heh, heh, I love the part where Slava chased his daughter Olga with her Cello when she was reading instead of practicing her cello. Heck, my Mom was thrilled when I didn't practice my clarinet. In that respect, I'm glad he wasn't my dad! It sounds like Slava is quite talented.

moville said...

that's right, he was a bit crazy when it came to people practicing his craft...but i don't think olga is the musician her father was, because i have never heard of her in connection with music. of course, as you point out, slava is exceptional. there's no one like him anywhere. you can't train people like him, they are just born.