Russian virtuoso cellist Rostropovich dies at 80

[27 April 2007]

By RIA Novosti (MCT)

MOSCOW—World-famous cellist-conductor and rights advocate Mstislav Rostropovich died Friday at the age of 80, his press spokeswoman said.

The musician was taken to a Moscow oncology center several days ago, and he had spent several months in the hospital earlier this year after he fell ill during a December tour to Voronezh, in southern Russia.

His illness had not been disclosed, but Russian media said Rostropovich had had his liver operated on following a course of therapy in Switzerland and France.

Rostropovich was discharged from the hospital at the beginning of March to celebrate his 80th birthday, but he looked frail at a Kremlin reception later that month, when he was given the supreme national award, For Distinguished Service to the Fatherland.

Dignitaries from around the world gathered March 27 in Moscow to honor the renowned musician, who had been forced into exile and deprived of his Soviet citizenship in the 1970s for supporting Soviet dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn and criticizing the lack of artistic and intellectual freedom in his country.

Since 1974, he was a conductor and artistic director at the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington for 17 seasons, frequently performed at the Berlin Philharmonic Hall and with the Boston and London symphony orchestras.

He was a member of the French Academy of “Forty Immortals.” Rostropovich also was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Rome-based National Academy of Santa Cecilia, the British Academy, the Swiss Royal Academy and the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts, and held the title of honorary professor at 50 universities around the globe and a number of other awards.

Since his Russian citizenship was restored in 1994, Rostropovich divided his time between homes in Russia, Western Europe and the United States.

Rostropovich—born in Baku, Azerbaijan, into a family of musicians—studied at the Moscow conservatory along with Soviet greats Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitry Shostakovich.

He played practically the entire existing cello repertoire, and later musical compositions written specially for him, including by Charles August de Beriot, Alfred Schnittke and Leonard Bernstein.

He is survived by his wife, the renowned opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya, to whom he was married for more than 50 years, and two daughters and grandchildren.

Rostropovich accompanied his wife on the piano in concerts across the world.

The charity fund he headed said Rostropovich would be buried in the Novodevichy cemetery, where Russia’s first post-Soviet president, Boris Yeltsin, was laid to rest Wednesday.

Rostropovich and Yeltsin had been on friendly terms. The musician reportedly took up arms when he came to Moscow in August 1991 to support Yeltsin, who moved to counter a coup by old-line Communist Party bosses.

President Vladimir Putin, who visited Rostropovich in the hospital in March, said his death was “a huge loss for Russian culture” and offered condolences to the musician’s family.

Rostropovich was to head the jury in the Tchaikovsky music contest in Moscow in June.

A funeral will be held Sunday after a service in the grand Christ the Savior Cathedral from 11 a.m. till noon, and a farewell ceremony Saturday in the conservatory from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Moscow time.

Published at: