SIX FRENCH INTERVIEWS

WITH MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVICH

November 2005 to November 2006

Translated by David Abrams

with the assistance of French
Cellist Caroline Vincent


Rostropovich at the 8th Cello
Competition in Paris 2005
In the last year-and-a-half of his life, Mstislav Rostropovich gave six fascinating interviews in French newspapers and on French radio. For this special memorial issue of the newsletter of the Internet Cello Society, David Abrams has arranged them in English in chronological order with a few editorial explanations. The two French radio broadcasts can be listened to on the websites of these radio stations, which provide a way to hear Rostropovich speaking in Russian with the ceaseless energy, brilliant erudition, lively humor, warmth of spirit, phenomenal memory, moral fervor, and profound inspirational thinking, which characterized him throughout his life.

In the middle of the period of these interviews, a year from his death in Moscow on April 27, 2007, Tim Janof conducted the important interview with Rostropovich on April 5, 2006, which recently appeared here: http://www.cello.org/Newsletter/Articles/rostropovich/rostropovich.htm

In the following French interviews, the reader will recognize that the editorial explanations by David Abrams are separated in brackets [ ] in order to differentiate them from the words of Rostropovich.



One has not thrown out Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa."
Why would one discard Beethoven's 9th Symphony?

Interview by Eric Dahan

[Published in the newspaper Quotidien during the 8th Rostropovich Cello Competition in Paris on Saturday, November 19, 2005. It can be found in French at http://www.liberation.fr/transversales/weekend/146119.FR.php]

Mstislav Rostropovich, Russian cellist and orchestra conductor, talks about his apprenticeship years in Moscow, his struggle with the KGB, his years in France and his love for Russia, to which he often returns.

How was the cello taught in the Soviet Union? Can one speak of a Russian cello school, as one speaks of the school of Russian violin?

I do not think so. Canons of cello teaching exist, as with all instruments. However, I believe that each teacher must adapt oneself to one's students, in the same way a doctor does not give the same treatment to all his ailing patients. For what is of national color, I believe that is lost. I remember a concert in Prague in the 1950's. We were warming up a little while waiting for the conductor, and in a few seconds I could say: "That person is a Frenchman. That person is German." The French had a very low endpin, while the Russians held the cello relatively flat. But that has disappeared with foreign exchanges, recordings, and the internationalization of lifestyles. Each person has borrowed that which interested him or her in the style or the sound of his or her colleagues to the point that today it has become impossible to identify the national origin of a musician. To return to pedagogy, the great teachers in Moscow did not only teach their instrument, they also taught the spirit of the compositions, without turning out carbon copies of their students. A Neuhaus gave us two major pianists as different as Richter and Gilels.

To become a great soloist similarly necessitates having a teacher from whom students may benefit through the teacher's close proximity with composers the teacher worked with in premiering different works. I think of the violinist David Oistrakh, who premiered works of Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and who was then able to inundate his students with colossal riches. When I taught in Moscow and St. Petersburg, I sought to make my students aware of the context in which a composition was born, this silence in which is produced the miracle of creation.

Once you became recognized as a cello soloist, you launched yourself in the direction of the orchestra. Do you think the qualities of a conductor are in relationship with one's age?

I believe that a conductor above all is someone who masters several specific professions. A string instrumentalist is a slave of the single note. Sometimes there are double notes, but never a true polyphony. The piano is indispensable. One must go through Bach's Preludes and Fugues, habituate oneself to hear many voices simultaneously. A conductor must with the same gesture give indications to many groups of instrumentalists—to the woodwinds, strings, percussionists. One must, then, know equally the emotional capacities of each instrument and the specific techniques with which to achieve them. One must know how to obtain the effects of contrast or of blending, how to give the impression that the music comes from far away, how it arrives unexpectedly after a crisis, or how to translate a gesture of hope. To be in physical contact with conductors, soloists, and composers is the only means of finding the right gesture in conducting. Talent and intuition are not enough. This experience is acquired, by all evidence, over many years.

You are recently very present in Russia. Other artists, chased out of their homeland by totalitarian governments, have never wanted to return…

My love for Russia has never left me a single moment. When I was a refugee in Paris, in the middle of the 1970's, I purchased all the Russian things I could find from an imperial palace, from furniture to curtains. All that you see around you [here in my home] is Russian, which I bought outside of Russia. When I come home after a concert, I serve myself a little Vodka in my living room, and it is as if I am back in Moscow.

Today, I try to give back to this Russia, which gave me so much, in music and in friendships. I just bought back the only apartment in which Moussorgsky lived in St. Petersburg, and where he, in part, composed operas, such as Boris Goudonov and The Khovanshtchina. I located his furniture and reconstructed his library, which displays first editions of his compositions. I also bought three other apartments in order to put up again the three families who had earlier occupied this "communal residence." Next year, we will open to the public the apartment of Shostakovich in the form of a museum. I will place there all the objects and manuscripts he gave me, so that they will remain in Russia. Similarly, I set up a foundation to assist young musicians, which recruits gifted children throughout Russia between the ages of 12 and 18 years. We enroll them in the best school in Moscow for their instrument and give them a scholarship.

How did your struggle with the KGB begin?

The Party officials informed me that I should throw Solzhenitsyn [editor's note: who had recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970] out the door. I told them that it was less than 30 degrees centigrade, and that it was out of the question. Solzhenitsyn had been chased out of the Union of Writers, and he had no other choice but to live in my home. One time he told me: "We no longer travel in a group by car to Moscow, so that they can eliminate two of us with a single truck." My dread was that they would eliminate Solzhenitsyn in my home and that my children and grandchildren would suspect me of having been indirectly an accomplice of the KGB. So I wrote a letter that I mailed to four newspapers in which I said everything I thought about the regime. I knew that it would never be published and that they could stop me. But I also knew the letter would be copied hundreds of times.

The proof was that the very next day everyone knew about it in Paris. Then I went to play in Germany. A KGB agent came to find me after the concert in my hotel room. He said to me: "Have you heard about this trouble-making? They have published a letter under your signature in which they have you saying that it is a scandal that composers, such as Shostakovich and Prokofiev are criticized within their own country, and that one must go to Paris to see the films of Tarkovski." I had similarly written in this letter: "In 20 years, we will be ashamed of this history." After my condemnation, they canceled all my concerts in the Soviet Union. I toured for three months in Western Europe two last times in 1969; then in the United States in 1972. In 1974, I was forced to leave [the USSR]. I still had my Soviet passport, and I could reside in French territory thanks to prolonged visas. My life had been cut in half. Up to 48 years of age, I had always played in the East. Next, I played no more in the West. Then, on May 15, 1978, I learned from the television that I had been stripped of my citizenship.

When in 1989 I saw on television that the Berlin Wall was being torn down, I took the first plane to go play there. When the taxi left us out in front of the ex-Berlin Wall, I realized that I needed a chair. I went to knock on the door of a house, and someone recognized me. Within 10 minutes, there was a little crowd, and a television crew came passing by. I played the most joyous Bach Suites for solo cello in order to celebrate the event. But I could not forget all those who had lost their lives on this wall in trying to cross over it. Hence, I played the Sarabande of Bach's 2nd Suite in their memory, and I noticed a young man crying.

Figure 2: Rostropovich plays in front of the Berlin wall on Nov. 11, 1989. A video of Rostropovich playing the Sarabande from Bach's Second Suite for Solo Cello in Dm at the Berlin Wall from French television is found at: http://www.ina.fr/archivespourtous/pop.php?id=b0677794482d6fbd512b14967d174eea. Another link to Rostropovich playing this very moving movement can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DfDVQ0pdfo.

After the euphoria of the Perestroika [Gorbachev's economic program roughly translated as "Mass Initiative"], many Russians are pessimistic about the future of their country. Is it difficult for an artist who was close to Picasso, Dali, Chagall or Chaplin, to live in the world of today?

It is like a sausage casserole. All is mixed together, good and bad. It takes time before anything can settle and rise to the surface. However, I remain optimistic, because I have seen a world swing from one day to the next. Too bad people have profited by stealing billions from this country. For the rest, that which is dreadful to me is the "pop music" which mobilizes so many people today. All of it is but derision, mediocre humor, people who want to break out into laughter. They only come to laugh. The curtain is not yet open that they have started to laugh. There is truly a very profitable industry in this variety of music in which the artistic level is sinking lower and lower.

The Marinski Theater of St. Petersburg has been literally resuscitated for 10 years under the impetus of Valery Gergiev. However the Bolshoi Ballet is stagnating. Why?

I will conduct War and Peace next month at the Bolshoi, and I know what the problems are. This theater did not know to seize the opportunity for tours abroad, which has permitted the Marinski Theater to replenish its funds and raise up its artistic level, while engaging foreign stage directors and in developing singers with an international reputation.

30 years after his death, Shostakovich continues to arouse interest in the controversy over his relationship with the Communist regime. Where does that come from?

From people one did not know. One must speak about that which one knows -- Shostakovich hated the regime. But he could not simply say, as he did not have the choice to accept to compose various patriotic works like The Song of the Forests. He understood under the sword of Damocles within a hair of being eliminated by the regime.

Do you understand the New-Marxists, Troskyites and Maoists of today?

Absolutely not. I think that they themselves do not understand what they say.

And the "change-the-world-ists" ("altermondialistes")?

From very general formulas. Capitalism is an altogether relative concept. One cannot compare that of London with that of Moscow. Everything depends upon the moment of historical development. When capitalism is in its early stages, there is chaos. Each one at first is seeking after one's own interests….

Aldo Ciccolini opined in his columns that, for him, the history of music called "classical" was finished, that it would eventually disappear…

I do not believe that is possible. One has not thrown out Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Why would one discard Beethoven's 9th Symphony? It is true that classical music is no longer central in people's lives, which is a question of education. Earlier, one had to get out to know the world and things and deploy one's intelligence in order to gain access to compositions. Today, it suffices to click on one's computer, and one obtains all one desires… Hence, the rare things of another time have lost their attraction.

Strangely, people are not attracted by beauty, except when they are facing tragedy or disappointment. Humanity publicly turns to classical music, when it wants to express solemnity, the grandeur of an ideal, commitment. The passion of 200 young candidates at the international cello competition that is taking place this week in Paris is for me another indication of the fact that this music is not close to disappearing.

Last May, you premiered a work in Vienna composed for you by Penderecki, a "mystical" composer. Is belief in God an absolute for you to play music?

I cannot respond to such a question. I have great respect for all religions. Each individual gives a different name to this spiritual dimension. Each individual must find her or his own voice, which is the closest to one's own feelings. For myself, it is the divine voice of the Eastern Orthodox Church. I do not condemn those who have made anti-religious propaganda in my country: They did it to earn a living.

You have considerably enriched the cello repertoire by your commissions from great composers. Which is for you the instrument today that needs to be written for it?

Everything depends upon who plays it and in which manner. One of my students must perform in Paris and play the solo marimba. The repertoire is nonexistent. But I am sure that if young composers attend his concert, they would love to compose for him.

Figure 3: Rostropovich and orchestra



Rostropovich speaks about his Competition

Interview by Xavier Lacavalerie

Conducted during the Rostropovich Cello Competition in Paris on November 20, 2005 for Radio Télérama.Fr. It is entitled, Rostropovich Parle De Son Concours, and it can be listened to in French with its charming translator at: http://www.teleramaradio.fr/playerson.php3?id_article=13

Introduction by Xavier La Cavalerie:

Rostropovich is a glory [Editor's note: This is a reference to the fact that Rostropovich's first name, "Mstislav," means "avenged glory," but his friends call him simply "Slava" which means "glory"]. He is a person I have met him several times in my life over the last 25 years. He is a man who is very busy, an extremely celebrated cellist and conductor from Russia. However, the first time I met him, I was completely taken by surprise that he invited me to have lunch with him, where we drank beer, consuming 18! I found that quite unusual. One knows he has many passions. He collects things, such as silverware. He appreciates his many honors. Yet he is capable of gestures of absolute generosity. He continues numerous foundations he has founded. He has a foundation where he helps many musicians and he founded the Rostropovich Cello Competition in France. Every four years, there is the Rostropovich Competition. Now at the age of 80 years, he is still very vital and active. There is Rostropovich the performer, the conductor, the show business. But behind that there is a man. He is so impassioned and involved that my interview was to be about 25 minutes, and the discussion continued for an hour and a half. He is an extremely warm person.

Let us begin by taking us back to the very beginnings of the Rostropovich Competition?

I am very interested in recalling the beginnings of the Competition. The first Competition was in 1977. At that time, I had come with my whole family chased out of the Soviet Union in 1974. The first Competition was organized, which took place in 1977 in La Rochelle. I am looking over the list of the jury members at the first Competition. There were very well-known composers, such as Lucianio Berio, Henri Dutilleux, Witold Lutoslawski and Iannis Xenakis. There were very few cellists on the jury. There was Pierre Panassou, who was my good friend to the end of his days, and also Madame Raya Garbousova. The first prize went to Luis Claret and Frédéric Lodéon, who is very well-known in France. To the present time, he is a great friend of mine! That was the first Competition.

Why did you organize it?

It was French people who requested and who organized the Competition. It was not me who organized it. All the competitions have a single goal – to have an opportunity to find the best cellists and to enable them to flower.

However, I had another goal. Each time, since I had relationships with great composers, we had an obligation to commission a piece of music for cello. I chose a composer, who will truly remain in history. The 8th Competition is currently taking place. So we now have 7 pieces that have already been composed for the Competitions. We have pieces by composers, such as Iannis Xenakis, Rodion Chédrine, Witold Lutoslawski, Marco Stroppo, Alfred Schnittke.

You have the idea to continue to stimulate new compositions to be written for the cello. It is almost an obsession with you, because you feel that the cello is persecuted to some degree?

Persecuted is a very good word. In my point of view, the cello is the most beautiful instrument. It has so many possibilities of expression. Why? Because it has the range of all the possibilities of the human voice. And why? It starts with the bass and it ends in a coloratura soprano. Violinists are much poorer. They have only a part of what we cellists have. They only have the feminine voice. One asks oneself why up to the present time the cello has not been as popular as the violin? When there began to be concerts by cello soloists, nearly everywhere the concert halls were rarely filled to capacity. I was the first cellist to fill Carnegie Hall. Why was that the case? At the time, there were many outstanding cellists. The reason was the repertoire of the cello. When cellists would give a concert, the halls often were not filled with people for a recital.

When one speaks of playing concerti with an orchestra, violinists have Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart. And we had almost nothing. They have so many works of Mozart, yet Mozart did not write anything for the cello. I blame the cellists, who lived during Mozart's time. If I had lived at that time, I would plant myself on the steps leading up to his house. I would sit there with the cello and a bottle of Vodka, hoping that he would open the door for me (laugh). Then I would try to play something to please him.

In America, Aaron Copland was one of my friends. But he never wrote anything for the cello, which I regretted. I once went to his home near New York City with my instrument, and I played Britten's Solo Suite for him. He was enchanted with it. Then I asked him, "Could you write something yourself for the cello?"

Too bad no cellist had made a visit to Mozart. Not only to Mozart. Our repertoire had been very poor compared to that of violinists and pianists. Now in this century, I think that perhaps cellists can be proud. There have been remarkable cellists, such as my friend that I adored, who was Maurice Maréchal [1892-1964]. I invited him to Moscow to participate on the jury of the Tchaikovsky Competition at which I presided. He came. Darius Milhaud [1892–1974] wrote something for the cello. Casals contributed enormously for the cello from the point of view of interpretation; but little for its repertoire. I tried to convince Stravinsky to write for the cello; but I was not successful. This is very sad. Piatigorsky made a transcription with Stravinsky of Pulcinella for cello and piano. But Shostakovich wrote two concerti for the cello. Prokofiev wrote three pieces for cello. Henri Dutilleux, a genius in my opinion, wrote a remarkable piece – a concerto for cello and orchestra. And others wrote pieces, such as Lutoslawski.

When one thinks of the cello, it is really the only instrument that one plays entirely while sitting down. Do you think that fact psychologically influences the cellist or cello music in some way?

I agree with you to think about its possible psychological influence. In New York City before 1960, I believe, we organized a cello society in which Piatigorsky and others were original members. Someone asked why there is such a feeling of camaraderie among cellists, which perhaps does not similarly exist among other instrumentalists. Neither violinists nor pianists have such a feeling of harmony. Piatigorsky, very seriously, said he thinks it is because we have a very hard life and we lug around an instrument that is not so easy to transport.

I can speak of some of my own catastrophes. When I was elected to the Académie des Beaux Arts in France, I spoke about some of them. I love my cello. I hold the cello in my arms and tell it everything that is in my heart. In Russian, the word for cello is feminine. In French, the word for cello is masculine. Oh, there I am lost! I think this is an error in the French language. The double bass is much longer than the cello, and it is a feminine word in French. But not the cello.

Tell me why the cello has been revolutionized in our time?

Throughout my career, I tried to develop the repertoire of the cello. I believe that this is my greatest accomplishment. What music we can play now! Today, people come to hear us play our music without concerti of Beethoven, Brahms or Mozart. Today, at all the music competitions around the world, such as the Casals and the Tchaikovsky competitions, we now have great pieces to play. I now feel that the cellists of today have awakened. At the current Rostropovich Competition, which is the 8th Competition, we have the largest number of more than 200 candidates.

Figure 4: Rostropovich presents 1st place award of 8th Cello Competition to Marie-Elisabeth Hecker



I Could Not Exist Without Shostakovich

Interview by Marie-Aude Roux

Interview published in Le Monde.fr on March 16, 2006.

We met Mstislav Rostropovich in his Parisian home on March 16, 2006. On this occasion, the cellist spoke about his relationship with the great Russian composer, Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975).

"In 1945, I won the prestigious Competition of the USSR in Moscow, which had not taken place since the war, and in which Shostakovich was president of the jury. The age limit had been changed, so that the pianist, Sviatislav Richter, who was then 31 years old, could compete. We both had won the first prize, ex-aequo ["according to what is right"]. Hence, Shostakovich said to me, "Slava, you are tired. I am leaving for vacation with my family in a composer's house and I am inviting you to come stay with us." During two weeks, I was then able to share in the family life of Shostakovich, with his first wife, Nina, and his two children. In this little city of Ivanovo, situated in the deep province, not far from Moscow, there was a flea market. Once when we were walking, Shostakovich said to me, "Let's go see this store." It was there that I tried my first experience smoking. Shostakovich offered it to me, and I kept it until my exile from Moscow in 1974.

I could not exist without Shostakovich. We saw each other all the time. He came to all my concerts. But as an interpreter of his works, I never asked him for advice. He was very delicate and did not like to wound others, to the contrary of Prokofiev. He could even lie in order to treat very carefully someone's feelings. He would never show anyone his work in the course of his composing. But he nevertheless allowed me to read the 2nd Cello Concerto before its completion, so that he retained two cadences for which I dared to give him some suggestions [editor's note: See Tim Janof's conversation with Rostropovich for these cadences in August 2006 at http://www.cello.org/Newsletter/Articles/rostropovich/rostropovich.htm].

When he had completed the 1st Cello Concerto, I had come to see him at St. Petersburg with my cello. He lived at the home of his sister. He was very nervous, and I was even more nervous. He began to play the piano. When he finished, I was totally overcome, which I told him. But he did not believe me. "Tell me the truth," he said. "Reflect well again. I can play it again and tell me if it truly pleases you." I replied, "Watch my face." Then he said, "Permit me to dedicate this work to you." In 1960, when I returned for a series of concerts, my wife told me that Shostakovich had been looking for me for two days. He wanted me to come to see him as quickly as possible. He had begun rehearsals of his 8th Quartet with the Beethoven Quartet. "I have made a recording, he told me, so that you could listen to it." There was his whole life in this work, composed to the memory of the victims of Stalin. The initials of his name, DSCH, and quotes from his 1st Symphony, from his opera Lady Macbeth, from his 1st Cello Concerto, etc. When we finished listening to the music, the two of us cried. He then said to me, "Finally, I have written a work that I would like one to play at my funeral."

Figure 5: Rostropovich, David Oistrakh, Britten and Shostakovich



Interview with Rostropovich on French Radio Station Canal Academie

by Priscille Lafitte

[Editor's note: This broadcast was recorded in the spring of 2006 and can be listened to and downloaded in Russian and in French as a podcast at www.canalacademie.com/article819.html. As the broadcast begins, the narrator states: The broadcast is under the editorship of Canal Académie. We rejoin Priscille Lafitte.]

Hello, Maestro Rostropovich. You premiered the two cello concerti of Shostakovich and you just premiered the 2nd cello concerto of the young French composer, Eric Tanguy. Between that time, more than a 100 new compositions have passed under your fingertips as cellist and orchestra conductor. Friend of Britten, Shostakovich, Solzhenitzen -- a friendship that led to you having to give up your Russian citizenship in 1978 -- friend of Picasso, Chagall, Charlie Chaplin.

Today, you live in the address of Mussorgsky at St. Petersburg. But you spend the majority of your time in airplanes, as a stateless individual, and as a venerated musician. You were elected Associate Foreign Member of the Académie des Beaux Arts ("Academy of Fine Arts") in 1987. Today, you are receiving us in your apartment in Paris. Thank you very much. You are Associate Foreign Member at the Académie des Beaux Arts. Can you permit me to remark that this is in a sense a recognition of France in your art and at the same time that you are an associate foreign member? Mr. Rostropovich, do you always feel Russian or do you feel in some way also French?

Of course, I consider myself a foreigner. I would not consider myself French.

Do you often travel to Russia?

Not in that sense at this moment. In my apartment in which you are actually here in Paris, I have made a "Russia." Everything you see here is Russian. Everything, everything, everything. The paintings, the furniture, even the curtains.

You returned to Russia in 1991, unless I am not mistaken. Have things changed a great deal? Notably it was 10 years since your returned to Baku where you were born in Azerbaijan? How have things changed there?

In relation to where I myself left, it is obvious. When I returned, one can say there had been a revolution there. There, it is important to know exactly where in the country you are, because it is still not very clear. It has completely become another country.

Regarding musical language, at the time of your reception at the Académie des Beaux Arts your elocution was very remarkable, because you played a piece of Britten, if I remember correctly.

Yes, yes. It was by Britten. I can even tell you why I made that choice. At the French Académie des Beaux Arts, I succeeded a sculptor, Henry Moore -- very celebrated here in France -- who was English. When Moore was alive, he introduced me to Benjamin Britten. Britten lived in a place called Aldeburgh and our friend the sculptor lived in the middle of the route between London and Benjamin Britten. And his wife spoke Russian very well. Since it was I who then took his place after he died, and in so far as Britten had acquainted me with this sculptor, I played the last Suite written by Britten for cello solo, which ends with a funeral melody of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Yes, that one sings in the church at a funeral. When one is received into the Académie des Beaux Arts, they told me I had to give a speech of one hour to speak about one's predecessor. Obviously, I spoke French very poorly. But I began, and then, I said, listen, it is better if I continue on the cello. So at the end I played in Moore's memory this work of Britten. My wife and I enjoyed very much Moore's wife, because she is charming and very intelligent.

I imagine you could speak about Russia together.

Yes. But if we meet together again, we would never cease completely working. (Everyone laughs).

On the day of your reception at the Académie des Beaux Arts , I also note that you played the cello solo at the time of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, and you said words are often poorly suited to express certain joys. Is music for you a higher mode of emotional expression?

Yes, music is much more powerful to express true feelings. With words, one must see the relationship with the different letters, and to make a reflection upon them within one's brain. But music goes directly to the heart. Music is much more powerful in my opinion and much more clear [Rostropovich speaks this sentence himself in French]. When composers of genius write music, they speak simply by means of music. But if they speak, it is a hundred times less powerful. When they write their feelings in sounds -- that is very powerful.

You have known very difficult times when you had to leave Russia. Was music then sufficient to fulfill and to support you?

It was the only thing that sustained me. Music…and friends, because my close friends never abandoned me. It was a good test for my friends. It was clear who was a true friend. The difficult times were not simply at my address. They were also at the address of Prokofiev and Shostakovich. They were very close when I had difficult times. When they had difficult moments, excuse me, I saw that an enormous amount of people abandoned them. The only ones who remained were the closest friends. We really appreciated those individuals.

Your wife is the very celebrated opera singer, Galina Vishnevskaya. Does the cello come close to the voice?

Yes. Very close. The range of the cello reunites with all the human voices, while the violin only begins with the voice of women. The range of the violin is much more limited, because it does not possess the very low sounds of the cello. Obviously, it can also express all emotions. But to us the cello seems to have many more possibilities.

Figure 6: Mstislav Rostropovich and his wife Galina Vishnevskaya in 1965. (Library of Congress)

Your friendship with Shostakovich. Where is the repertoire today of the cello? You have contributed to the creation of many contemporary works. Of course, before classical works on the cello were very, very rare. One does not now have to return only to that history. Do you think that today there is still a lack for the cello or do you think that the repertoire is okay?

Oh, the contemporary repertoire is actually now sufficient. What is very important is that for me, when I started my career, it is now a very long time, our repertoire at the time was very impoverished compared to that of the violin from that period then. Beethoven wrote a concerto of genius for the violin. Mozart wrote brilliant violin concerti. But neither wrote anything at all for the cello. They never wrote a concerto for the cello. Mendelssohn has a concerto for violin, but not for the cello. I can cite many examples. Brahms wrote for the violin. But not for the cello. He only wrote a double concerto. I think that the repertoire that remained was impoverished for the cello, unequal in all cases. Unequal also compared to that of the piano and the violin. Today, I can very happily think about the young cellists, who must continue to expand our repertoire for the cello. They must search for talented composers and commission them to compose works for them. One must know that when one commissions a piece, it may not immediately be an opus of genius. You can suffer while playing new pieces. But after seeing how you have suffered so much, they must grant you a composer of genius.

A cellist is actually required, then, to turn to the contemporary repertoire?

Yes. The cello is not at all deficient compared to the piano or violin. Hence, composers must honor it. But I am very happy to say for all your radio listeners that literally in a few days, an outstanding French composer named Henri Dutilleux will be 90 years of age. And I consider that the concerto he wrote for me for the cello is one among only a few of exceptional quality. I believe that in the future cellists will recognize it.

There are the contemporary concerti of Shostakovich, Dutilleux, and today of Eric Tanguy. How would you see contemporary composition for the cello in 20 years, in 50 years?

Well, there would be different works. There would be good, there would be bad, and the cellists must choose. Evidently, they made mistakes when there were less [compositions for the cello]. You know that when contemporary composers went to cello concerts, I want to say that it was not that frequently. But even when they would listen to not entirely extraordinary cello compositions, they would take note within their bodies of certain internal tonalities, as they differ from those of the flute or the trumpet, for example. They notice these things, and when they write, they know what they can do. At times, they write into their own music these internal, intimate contacts. But…certain things that they feel convey much more, they will utilize.

Specifically, in what form do you envision music in 50 years?

Well, I cannot say how that will be. One can simply say that music has become more complex. That is a very simple example, because composers who composed in the hour of their life, many among them were never understood by their contemporaries. I see that now in so far as I have already had a long life. I am presently participating in Shostakovich festivals throughout the entire world, especially for the centenary of his birth. I see how his music affects the audience, how he has become loved. The same thing with Prokofiev.

Geniuses arrive. They tell us what we must do, and we have to catch up to them after a certain number of years.

Do you have a schedule for the Shostakovich centenary?

Oh yes. Today, I leave for London to give a Shostakovich concert. Then I go to Breznia. There will be large Shostakovich concerts in the United States. Of course, in Washington, New York, San Francisco, Seattle. There will be one in Paris, I think in December. No, November, not December. Everywhere. And the very day of the centenary, the exact day of his birth, I will conduct a concert in Moscow. It will be the 25th of September, which is the day of his birth. His time has come again.

On the subject of Shostakovich, who you obviously knew very well. How do you explain his political position, which you knew very well?

I would say it stems from a very simple action. When his works are censured in Russia, you involuntarily became a political individual. You cannot love a government that forbids all of your works. The government made him into a participant of I do not know what kind of relationship. The same thing with Prokofiev and certain writers, such as the poet, Anna Akhmatova [1889-1966] and Josef Brodsky [winner of the 1987 Nobel Prize for Literature], who was also chased out of the country. We were forced to become against the government.

In defense of Russian music, today we love Russian music. Does there always exist a Russian music in the sense of the national sense of a Russian tonality?

I think that each composer has traits of national character. In the same way, a French writer's language expresses one's thoughts, which does not resemble the language of a Russian writer. Dutilleux wrote a fantastic concerto for the cello. But it is a French concerto, and it is magnificent. There is Shostakovich; Prokofiev wrote the Symphonie Concertante; and they wrote in a Russian language. Britten wrote in his own language. A person who is born in a particular country is automatically the representative of this country. The first thing that they know, they listen to the music of their own country. One's friends generally come from one's own country. Hence, each person has one's own language, also in music.

Is there a Russian music?

Russian music is very simply Russian, of a Russian character. I cannot say that this is very well researched. It is an obvious taste. Russian music has much fewer semitones than others. I do not want to say that Russians do not have semitones. But each writer expresses the personages one describes, and Russian personages are very different from French personages. The two are perhaps very beautiful, very profound. But in love, for example, a Russian man and woman express themselves to each other in a personal manner in words as well as in actions. In each country, this gives great pleasure throughout the whole world.

Do you consider that your interpretation of compositions is Russian?

Ah no. I do not consider it such, because when I started my studies I obviously played everything in a Russian way, because I am Russian. But when I visited throughout the world, and made friends, I began to admire the culture of France, that of Italy. When I play French music, I then try to feel French, in loving this culture.

One sees effectively that you understood Russian colors of the cello very well, because you were born there. However, one sees in the younger generation that particular schools of the cello are no longer necessarily present. There are no longer Russian colors, French colors.

Yes.

Everyone listens to discs of the same concerts, and plays with the same interpretations.

Exactly. Now we understand the interpretations of other people. One cannot say from an abstract method that that is a "French" composition without an understanding of French culture. One must understand French life, painting, literature. That will give you a representation of the original aura of the work, and you will begin to understand the composer, who lived in that particular atmosphere. Then you must try to transmit that atmosphere.

In that situation, do you think at the same time one loses something?

No, I do not think one loses anything. At the same time, one is nourished. If we always eat the same soup our entire life, I think we will already be lost. But happily, there exists different cuisines. For me, without French cuisine, I will not feel good at all.

You help a lot of cello schools in Russia. You finance numerous foundations.

No. They are not cello schools, but music schools. My foundation awards scholarships independently of the person's instrument, or for composers. No. The essential thing is to have talent. Each must have talent in what each individual does.

What would you say you received from Shostakovich?

Listen, I will be taking a train this evening to talk about half of what I experienced from Shostakovich. I received from him all that I now possess, as well as equally from Prokofiev. And other composers as well, such as Benjamin Britten.

Regarding your artist friends, you rediscover today other artist friends. Notably, there is Ligeti at the Académie des Beaux Arts? You belong to other artistic academies in London, Stockholm, the United States. Do you find other enriching friends in those circles among other musicians and other artists of today?

For me, I never ask whether someone is an artistic academician or not. Nor do they ask the same thing of me. This is not a means to become immediately someone's friend. Many professionals who have very close relationships with me perfectly ignore whether I belong to an academy or not.

As they enlarge the members of the Académie des Beaux Arts, who among your artist friends of today do you recognize as true artists?

I have truly a large army of friends. They await me under a little cloud, and I think there are those who keep a table for me and who are now waiting for me (laughs). The people who are very close to my heart, very dear, are Jean-Pierre Rampal, for example, and many other musicians and composers. What could I say? Obviously, I live among friends. But you know my friends right now are all much younger than I am.

Is there someone precisely among the young soloists or young composers who you recognize as particularly outstanding?

I do not know how that goes (Laughs). When I see them, I always want to congratulate them for the fact that I recognize that they physically do not resemble me. There, I have to congratulate them.

To come to political causes, what would be the causes or the things in which you would love to participate or in which you would wish to be involved?

First of all, I would have to know the form of the participation. I very happily never make public speeches. I would never participate in a political demonstration in the street. But what is the most important for me is that I try to aid sick children, for example, with many foundations. One of those foundations is in Washington, which gives vaccinations to children against TB and other childhood illnesses. We have already carried out with my foundation more then two million vaccinations of Russian children. Also in Lithuania, there is a foundation. The foundation is large, because it helps not only young musicians and sick children but also gifted children who are interested in music, mathematics. They participate in certain festivals of young physicians. I also help them. In Germany, I have a foundation, which is more specialized to aid young cellists. But not only them.

To do good is to educate and help children. I have many friends among doctors. There is a research scientist named Plotkin. He is a doctor who lives in Washington. He invented the vaccination against chicken pox. He is a great lover of music. He has come to many of my concerts. I went to see him, and we obtained the vaccine almost as a present, almost… Here in France, I am very friendly with the president of Total [editor's note: Thierry Desmarest, president of a major French oil company], who also participates in helping children. He has helped them a lot and he has also helped me.

Figure 7: Rostropovich and wife Galina Vishnevskaya have several foundations to help children in Russia, Lithuania and elsewhere (see http://www.rostropovich.org/).

Are there any musical engagements that are especially dear to your heart?

I have given concerts in places where people have never seen a living performer, and the people learned a great deal. I remember, for example, a tour across Siberia. I founded a group of four musicians. The places we went to play were in the country, where these people had never even seen a piano. I played with the Bayan, which is the Russian accordion. I myself played with the Bayan. Also, the Bayan played solo. After I brought with me a singer, and the singer sang accompanied by the Bayan. The person who presented the concert talked about things, and at the end of the concert, it was the singer, myself, and the Bayan together.

One winter day we arrived in Siberia with this little group. We decided to play in a relatively large house with an audience of 30 people. The men had enormous beards. I was in front of them, and the audience was very excited. In fact, there was one person who exclaimed, "Look what they are doing! How do they do that?" He spoke so loudly that I noticed that the audience could no longer hear us. So I tried to play even louder. However, he responded by speaking even more forte. At that point, I felt I could not win in that situation, so I started to play pianissimo four sword strokes, as if I had just died. After that, they started to listen to us. I understood that piano can be much more powerful than forte. Voilà! I learned some things!

What particular cellos do you play?

Among cellos, you want to say? First of all, I played on a cello that belonged to my father, who was a cellist. Later, I bought a Russian cello, one that pleased me. You know, it is like a marriage. You choose one that pleases you. You make an acquaintance with the cello. You try to make a statement. She tries to understand you. Unhappily, it may not work out. So you seek another one, and in one single stroke, the cello responds to you with a sonority! Then the marriage takes place.

Do you have several cellos?

Yes. I also have many presents that I love. I have an instrument made by Etienne Vatelot, a great master [editor's note: French luthier who was on the jury of the 8th Rostropovich Competition]. I also have other presents of remarkable instruments people made for me on which I have played concerti. I have played different concerts on different instruments.

Do you currently give a lot of cello concerts?

No. At the moment I do not want to. The last premiere I did on the cello was last year with the Vienna Philharmonic with Seiji Ozawa conducting. It was the Dvorak Concerto and the premiere of the work of Penderecki, which he dedicated to me. But as conductor, I have also premiered many works, including a whole series of operas. I calculate, as a conductor and cellist, that I have premiered more than 230 compositions.

Figure 8: Mstislaw Rostropovich, Krzysztof Penderecki and Seiji Ozawa after the premiere of Penderecki's Largo for Violoncello and Orchestra on June 19, 2005 in the Musikverein. Rostropovich also performed in this concert Dvorák's Cello Concerto. It was his last appearance at the Musikverein.

Do you have the same feelings as a cellist and as a conductor?

The conductor has many more possibilities. There is much more repertoire for an orchestra. There are many outstanding orchestral works. There are many that I would regret not conducting. I was very happy to conduct a great many operas. I think I have premiered nine operas, among them two works of Schnittke, and many other very important works. The orchestra was always my dream. Since I know string instruments very vwell, when I make during rehearsals a remark on matter which string instrument, they believe me. Thank you very much for the interview.

Very well. Thank you very much.

Priscille Lafitte: We have spent an hour in the company of Mistislav Rostropovich, who granted us an interview in his apartment in Paris. The translation was provided by Nina Apreneff [Editor's note: also Rostropovich's translator at the jury of the 8th Competition]. When the Maestro was elected Associate Foreign Member of the Académie des Beaux Arts in 1987, the composer Marcel Landowski [1915-1999; a prominent composer, who composed a cello concerto in 1946 and founded the Orchestre de Paris in 1967] welcomed him with a speech under the dome of the Institute of France, as is the custom. The two men knew each other very well, because Marcel Landowski had dedicated to Rostropovich and his wife Galina Vishnevskaya a concerto for cello, soprano and orchestra entitled, "Un Enfant Appelle" ("A Child Calls") in 1978. We suggest that you listen to some selections of this speech in a reading by Fernand Guiot:

[Editor's note: The following is a selection of the five page speech by Marcel Landowski on May 27, 1987, when Rostropovich was elected to the French Academy. It is publication Number 13 of the Institute of France. This very moving speech touches on creativity, the role of the artist and the public, the relationship between art and spirituality and gives wonderful intimate details about Rostropovich from his long friendship with this important French composer and cultural leader, Marcel Landowski]:

Monsieur, Dear Slava, your election was, as we say in similarly outstanding cases, an election of a Grand Marshall ("Maréchal"). How would it be otherwise? You have been among us for multiple reasons, and it is an honor for us to have elected you. Multiple reasons, I have said. I see among them no less than three that are the most noble. First, your genius as a musician; your friendship regarding the music of France; and finally, your courage in the struggle for freedom. Your genius, our great Charles Dullin [1885-1949; a prominent French actor who had a school for actors] used to say at the end of artistic performances, "Has God come down to earth this evening or not?" In all meetings between performers and the public on the stage, there is always this mystery, which causes the electric current to flow or not to flow. This mystery is beyond talent, sometimes even beyond the written text. No one can explain it, no one can analyze it. This is a line of questioning addressed by Charles Dullin. For musicians, I believe this mysterious flight emanates or does not emanate from a personality, and by all evidence it is felt in regard to the conductor of an orchestra. There are not any precise techniques for an orchestra conductor, as there are for a pianist or a cellist. But there is why I do not know what magnetism, an electric meeting among three – the orchestra, the audience and the conductor. The look, the quality of silence before starting, time -- as if suspended, enthusiasm, and love that still continues yet is in the present, which casts its spell upon us. Such is the mysterious world penetrated by the great performer, the great musician, those who make the heart sing, who elevate humanity through music towards that which is much higher and much greater than ourselves.

Dear Slava, you more than others communicate this mysterious magnetism, this warmth of love, to your audience. You communicate to audiences throughout the world. You communicate to humanity across time itself. I want to say that there are emotions that are etched in the feeling memory of those who are transformed by those who move them. You are among those who give through music the courage to act and to live.

Then there is friendship. You are a man of friendship and of loyalty and notably for the music of France, especially for France's contemporary music. You are one of the rare people, who outside of so-called specialized organizations recaptured the torch previously held in France by conductors, such as [Pierre] Monteux, [Paul] Paray, and[Albert] Wolf, who put contemporary composers in contact with a vast public. Shaking your head against the difference [between this music and more accepted traditional music], sometimes even the refusal [of others to perform it], you persist in happily suggesting works that you love.

Such is, Dear Slava, one of your assigned missions. You do it with cheerfulness and exceptional success. I would say that you do this out of a friendship and loyalty for France. In effect, for the orchestra of Washington, D.C., for which over the past 10 years you have been not only the conductor -- but the soul. You have commissioned many works from composers among your friends, because you love their music and among those, many who are French. I believe that since Koussevitsky, no other conductor in the United States has commissioned as many contemporary works, and this is a good message of friendship and of faith. But Monsieur, Dear Slava, you love France so much. You told me that you feel so much at home here that when you walk along the streets of Paris, to the Opera, in the Trocadero [gardens], you are quite astonished not to understand what the passerby's are saying, as you say to yourself, but I do understand Russian?

Dear Slava, your aura is universally recognized and celebrated throughout the world, as much as cellist and orchestra conductor. You have unambiguously followed the moral road of courage in the defense of freedom. Your Russian friends were comrades with you in the battle of intelligence and talent. There were among many others, Shostakovich, Sakharov, and Solzhenitsyn. The tragic experiences that you, your wife, Galina, and your two delightful daughters endured demonstrate courage and faith. One example among many others is your battle to get published in Russia one of the major books of Solzhenitsyn, August 1914. Even though you knew the danger, you welcomed Solzhenitsyn into your dacha [outside of Moscow]. After his 10 years of imprisonment and work camp, he lived near you, almost happy. Of course, you and Galina knew how he suffered. Because you loved so much your own country, Slava, despite the counsel of Galina, you continued very openly to do everything you could, so that August 1914 could be published in Russia. Although you saw that throughout the country, Dear Slava, everyone loved and admired you, all the major publishing houses had even refused to read this new work of Solzhenitsyn. For you, that was of no importance. You considered this to be an admirable work that should be published in its own country. At the Secretary of the Commission on Ideology, a totally cold shower. No one had the time to read this manuscript. To your great admirer and friend, Kanerina Vortseva, a frightened and even colder reception. Slava could not even place his package of the manuscript on the desk of the Minister, the manuscript was such a politically sensitive issue.

Today, Monsieur, Dear Slava, you are a citizen of the world, and consequently in large part French in your heart – for music and the love of freedom. This is why our Academy, which includes all the arts and associated artists in all parts of the world, now welcomes you and at the same time pays homage to a great among the great. The works of tomorrow are created by experience and spirituality. If it were not so, there would be no more art, there would be no more humanity. I say these words to you, Slava, because today it is we who receive you under the dome of the Institute of France, who you have inspired through your profound prescience of things and of people.

You never cheated with your sensibility. That is the unconscious and involuntary law of great artists.

That is why I want to dedicate to you my hope, to you a man of hope. Your immense talent and the extraordinary human warmth that shaped you and with which you give to others your unceasing battle for the arts and for freedom have the result that, in the words of all my colleagues, I am profoundly happy and moved to tell you that we are proud to count you among us.

Figure 9: The composer Marcel Landowski



Mstislav Rostropovich: A Soldier of Music

Interview by Bertrand Dermoncourt

In L'EXPRESS of September 21, 2006. It can be read in the original French at this location: http://www.lexpress.fr/mag/arts/dossier/entretienmusiqu/dossier.asp?ida=451728&p=2

Former student of Dimitri Shostakovich, whose centennial we are celebrating. Mstislav Rostropovich, undisputed cello virtuoso, recalls the work of the greatest Soviet composer and his struggles with Stalin's dictatorship.

Mstislav Rostropovich is not only the star of the cellists. Born in 1927, "Slava" was also at the center of musical life in USSR before his exile in 1974. Today, he returns to this disturbing period while reliving it with the vivid passion that characterizes him, as he passes from a whisper to a cry, from rage to other emotions. For L'EXPRESS, Rostropovich remembers the greatest Soviet composer, whose centennial of his birth we are celebrating this year -- Dmitri Shostakovich.

You were a colleague and a friend of Shostakovich. In what circumstances did you meet him?

It was during the war in 1943. I was 16 years old and I had just entered the Moscow Conservatory. I was then in his orchestration class. Imagine the excitement for a beginner such as me to find myself the student of the greatest composer in the country! This meeting was a determining factor in my life. While becoming close to such a genius and attending rehearsals of his 8th Symphony, I recognized that I did not have the talent to become the composer I had imagined. Therefore, I became a cellist. On many occasions, I played with him on the piano, his Cello Sonata. He later dedicated to me his two Cello Concertos. That we had become very close friends is the one of the great prides of my life.

In the USSR of Stalin, Shostakovitch was at once the most celebrated composer and the target of the attacks by the regime. What did he represent for your generation?

I was twenty years younger than Shostakovich, and, for the people my age, he was not only a teacher, but a moral reference. What words could not say, his music expressed. His music described the horrors of war, fear of arrests, and the lost life under terror. His music permitted many Soviet people to believe again in dignity. Under Stalin, Shostakovich was publicly condemned two times -- in 1936 and 1948 -- and proclaimed as an "enemy of the people." They withdrew his courses from the Conservatory. His colleagues were forced to denigrate him and his scores were censored.

Why was he censored?

We were living under a bloody dictatorship. The bastards who conducted the music in the USSR could easily cut the food provisions of musicians. This is what they did with Prokofiev and Shostakovich. After his second condemnation, Shostakovich was very afraid that this period of food shortage would return. Therefore, he was always on the telephone and attending painful administrative meetings, because it was necessary to demonstrate his good will. He even ended up becoming a member of the Communist Party in 1960. One day I asked him, a little distressed to ask him this question, why he put his signature to letters condemning dissidents. He replied, "When they give me these letters, here is what I do. (Rostropovich then imitated the gesture of Shostakovich turning a piece of paper upside down in order to sign it with his head down below.) Shostakovich then added, "People will learn a lot more from my music than from my signature."

Exactly, what can you tell us about the works of Shostakovich?

His 15 symphonies are, each in its own way, an epic commentary of the history of the USSR. Who speaks to us better about the war than the 8th Symphony? Other scores are more intimate and others are more scathing. In 1989, I recorded the first world premiere of one his cantata Rayok, a scatological work where Shostakovich mocks Stalin and his henchmen. This music was written as a revenge against his condemnation in 1948. The work had remained hidden in his chest of drawers.

How was Shostakovich in private?

Very reserved. However, I have met few men as profound. He had an exceptional elegance of heart. He helped hundreds of people in need and, even in the worse moments of the terror, he remained a model of integrity. In private, he could be very funny. In public, he adopted a neutral, almost absent demeanor. At the time of the premieres of his works, which were indescribable triumphs, he hardly dared to greet people.

What memory do you cherish of him?

One day, Shostakovich asked me: "Slava, if you were on the stage and someone threw a rock at you, would you stop playing?" I replied: "No, I would continue." He smiled and added: "You are right, we are all the soldiers of music." He marked this with a pause: "And there are no generals among us." I have therefore become a soldier to the service of his music.

In 1974, I was chased out of the USSR. It was a year before Shostakovich's death. He was then very sick. My wife and I went to say goodbye to him. This was an upsetting time, because we knew that we would never see each other again. I promised him that I would make his work known in West, to play and to record all his symphonies and his opera Lady Macbeth of Mzensk, which were forbidden in the USSR. It took me several years to achieve it. One of my great satisfactions is to note to which point his music touches the younger generation. At the time of the last Rostropovich Cello Competition in Paris, all six finalists interpreted his First Concerto. Today, the music of Dmitri Shostakovich is being played everywhere, while it had been forbidden in the USSR. What revenge!

Figure 10: Shostakovich and Rostropovich

Rostropovich interview for the Orchestre de Paris, Winter 2006

Interview by Yannick Millon

[Editor's Note: The last major conducting Rostropovich did in France was in November 15-23, 2006, where he conducted four concerts with the Orchestre de Paris in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975). The first program for Wednesday and Thursday November 15 and 16, 2006 consisted of the Cello Concerto No. 1, Op. 107, with the 28 year-old winner of the 7th Rostropovich Competition of 2001, Tatjana Vassilieva; and the Symphony No. 8 in Cm, Op. 65. The program notes for this performance state:

Shostakovich was profoundly affected by World War II during which he wrote three of his symphonies. With the 8th Symphony, the most somber and despairing, composed in 1943 in the midst of the torment, he wanted to recreate "The internal climate of humanity deafened by the gigantic hammer of war." Created in 1959 for Mstislav Rostropovich, to whom it is dedicated, the 1st Cello Concerto is to the contrary a melodic and seductive work which offers the soloist virtuosic writing, even spectacular.

[The second program for Wednesday and Thursday, November 22 and 23, 2006 was the Symphony No. 10, Op. 93; the Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 35, with Cédric Tiberghien piano; and 5 Entr'actes taken from Lady Macbeth. The program notes for the concert stated:

Lady Macbeth marks a turning point in the carrier of Shostakovich. The criticism is virulent, orchestrated even by Stalin himself. This music is considered as "Contrary to socialist morality." Around this turning point work, the program permits us to hear Shostakovich full of the joie de vivre and humor of the Piano Concerto No. 1, but also the 10th Symphony with its great emotional intensity and with its very affirmative dramaturgy. Composed in the months that followed the death of the "Little Father of the People," Shostakovitch will admit, a long time after its creation, that this symphony was an ultimate settlement of accounts with Stalinism.

[Yannick Millon conducted an interview with Rostropovich prior to the above historic performances, which is located in French on the website of the Orchestre de Paris]: http://www.orchestredeparis.com/20062007/rostropovitch.htm

In what circumstances did you meet Shostakovich?

During the war, because of the bombings, my family and I had been evacuated from Moscow and we found ourselves in Orenburg, in the Ural Mountains, where my godmother lived. I cannot say that the life there had been easy, especially materially. But my father, who had studied with Casals in Paris and was an extremely brilliant cellist, managed to find work. He played in a trio in a movie theater before the films started. My mother taught piano in a music school, while I was attending school.

One beautiful day, like a gift from heaven, the little theater of the Opera of Leningrad was similarly evacuated to Orenburg, bringing to the city a musical effervescence it had never known. I was then able to attend a large number of rehearsals. I was already playing the cello very well, and from the age of 14 years, I participated in concerts with the artists of the Opera, including little tours. It is thus that our life unfolded up to 1942.

My father then died. It was then necessary for my sister, mother and me to deal with it. Happily, the people were extremely nice to us, and I will always remember this time in my life. I would even say that all the good that I do today -- the foundation for very ill children in Russia, the foundation for young musicians, the talented young people of Lithuania, the music schools -- I now do in memory of that benevolence shown to me during these trying days. My real education comes from this time.

At the time, we did not have the right to return to Moscow. However, in so far as I was beginning to become known, the professors and the director of the Conservatory to which my family and I were often invited had offered me the opportunity to enter the Conservatory, in spite of my 16 years of age; even though the rule only permitted one to be admitted at 18 years of age, after having completed the 10 years of secondary school. The director, Chebaline, a friend of my father, registered me in the cello class of Professor Kosoloupov and in his own official composition class. At the time, Shostakovich was at the height of his glory, since he had just composed his 7th Symphony during the siege of Leningrad. He already taught at Moscow, and even though I was the student of Chebaline, I dreamed of entering class of Shostakovich. But of course I could not quit a professor who had given me access to such a prestigious institution.

How did you manage to enter the class of Shostakovich?

When you studied composition, you could also follow courses in orchestration, the discipline in which Shostakovich had an incalculable number of students. I managed to obtain 20 minutes of his time for him to examine the score of my first concerto for piano. I was totally nervous. I was a rather good pianist. But I would never have believed myself capable of playing that rapidly. My fingers flew at top speed, since I was worried about taking up Shostakovich's time. Then he shook my hand, gave me compliments, and assured me that if I would like to work with him, he would be pleased to accept me in his class. It was thus that I became his student.

I must say that it is there that I truly learned music. Shostakovich had a phenomenal erudition. He knew the entire repertoire by heart, and we often played through Mahler's symphonies, four hands on the piano. I do not have the right to speak of the friendship concerning our relationship at that time. However, we had such human closeness that we considered ourselves a little like members of the same family.

At the same time, it is Shostakovich who was involved in my first awards. In the Soviet Union, if you had not obtained a first prize at a competition, it would not go well for you. It was the required road of every musician. However, there had not been any competitions during the seven years of the war. In December 1945, at 18 years of age, I participated in the first large competition after the war, which brought together hundreds of musicians and 25 members of the jury, presided over by Shostakovich. There were five disciplines: Piano, violin, cello, harp and singing. Only three musicians obtained a first prize, in which I won for cello. Normally, the age limit was fixed at 30 years of age, but they made an exception of pushing it ahead one year, so that Sviatislav Richter could register in piano. Then of course he won a first prize.

There was also the shock of the 8th Symphony that you had discovered in 1943.

Absolutely. One day, Shostakovich proposed to his students to come to the first rehearsal of his 8th Symphony, which he completed a little bit later. That very day, I received the musical shock of my life, at the point that I abandoned composition. It is also for that reason that the 8th Symphony is the dearest to my heart, because it is that which to me is the most remarkable.

The personality of Shostakovich left you with such an impression that today you have set up a museum dedicated to him in St. Petersburg.

Indeed; and to pay tribute in words to what his personality merits, I would have to talk with you for several days. Instead, I will be content to tell you a little about this museum. I bought the apartment at St. Petersburg in which Shostakovich lived between 1914 and 1934, during his first creative period, the notable time when he turned out the 1st Symphony, the Lady Macbeth opera and various ballets. I renovated the apartment, and on November 25th, after three months of later delay, we were finally able to inaugurate this museum, on 9 Marat Street, near the avenue Prospekt Nevsky, for which I have amassed an immense number of documents and souvenirs of Shostakovich.

Do you think, as one often hears said, that the 8th Symphony is a war diary?

In part. If the 7th Symphony was in some way the charge of energy of the resistance against the German Army, and it was sufficiently accessible to the greater public, then the 8th Symphony is to the contrary a work of suffering, the symphony of the revenge against the enemy. Shostakovich did not search this time to contaminate the listener by determination and patriotic feeling, but to return intimately within himself, to express much less than superficial feelings. The 8th Symphony is for me the most profound of Shostakovich's symphonies, and also my favorite for the reasons I stated above.

Except in his second movement -- the famous post-mortem caricature of Stalin -- the 10th Symphony presents on the other hand a tone less anguished, and certain musicologists have proceeded to evoke Mahler and Tchaikovsky.

For me, it rather has to do with a totally independent composition, which comes across with as much of the genius as that of the 8th Symphony. But for this history of caricature, you know today one makes many connections to the things of Stalin, and for my point of view on your question is that it has to do more with an inventiveness in the case of the 10th Symphony. Stalin had such a precise character that Shostakovich could very well depict him in music without thinking specifically about him. Then, yes, as soon as Stalin died, one thought the 2nd movement was a caricature of the defunct dictator. To my eyes, the 10th Symphony distinguishes itself perhaps by the fact that Shostakovich was in love, and that the 3rd movement is in some way dedicated to this love. I prefer to think of it in that detail.

You are the greatest defender of Lady Macbeth in its original version. Do you think the "5 Entr'actes" give an acceptable idea of the opera?

I am not the only great defender of the original version, but the defender of the only Lady Macbeth, because I never conducted nor will I ever conduct Katerina Ismaïlova, this reworking of the work that represents a major impoverishment. And to respond to your question, I think that the Entr'actes can in effect give a good idea of the opera, because the principal material is there. It stems from the opera score and from nowhere else. These are the little islands that bring oneself back to the particular sensations of the given moments of the opera, which offer just the right range of its climate. Even if these Entr'actes will never replace the general line of a representation of the continuity and integrity of the entire opera.

In notable relationship to the 2nd Cello Concerto, what is the specificity of the 1st Cello Concerto for Cello, which is much less played?

I return to Stalin. Shostakovich always saved a tooth against Stalin, a rancor which was displayed more or less according to different periods. For example, in the 1st Cello Concerto, towards the end, there is a very simple passage with the theme in the basses, where the solo cello plays octaves above it. One day, Shostakovich said to me: "Slava, you must understand that in this concerto, I know every note. Have you not found anything about Stalin in it?" Upon reflection, I answered him that in all honesty, no. He then showed me in the score a very much camouflaged quotation that even I, who knew the concerto perfectly, could not locate. It had to do with a Georgian melody, which was called "Souliko," which was Stalin's favorite song. Shostakovich had concealed three notes of this melody right in the middle of the phrase of the basses, so that the cello played twice as rapidly above, making the identification practically impossible.

The famous skill of Shostakovich to resort to irony as an outlet.

I believe that he used all expressive means as an outlet, and not only irony, which served him rather to conceal certain things. It is very difficult to make sense of all of that, to know from which means he served himself to attain such and such a goal. However, that which is absolutely certain is that he used music altogether as an outlet.

Shostakovich creates today the same infatuation that Mahler created in the 1980's. Even in overshadowing the anniversary of this year [2006], Shostakovich never had as much honor in concert halls, and to be one of the most performed composers of the 20th century.

To what is that attributed according to you?

To the fact that one discovers his genius progressively. God wanted it so. When a genius arrives on the earth, one does not praise the person to the skies every day. One does not immediately give the person the Nobel Prize and a Cadillac, because that would pamper the person too much in the sense of becoming spoiled. The person must reveal of what his or her talent is capable. This is a divine law. The composer is put to the test. One tests his or her resistance, his or her concession to the style in the air and the fashion of the times. With Shostakovich, the genius was there as a rock one could not move even one centimeter, for life had made him endure. Even in a concentration camp, he would write exactly the same music. It is this determination that is fascinating, and which brings about the same infatuation, notably among young listeners, who have not lived during this period.

Above musical parameters, do you feel that there is an "education" in the style of Shostakovich that you need to bring in, when you conduct what one would call at other times "Western orchestras"?

More now, because that had already been done a long time ago, and I must truly say that Shostakovich's success in the West came from the interpretation of the 1st Symphony by Toscanini; but also from the radio broadcast of July 19, 1942 on the American radio of NBC, of the American premiere of the Leningrad Symphony, always by Toscanini, which rang like a declaration of resistance of the entire planet against German Nazism. American orchestras and those of Western Europe know this music and often play it, even if they do not have the same reflexes of Russian orchestras, which themselves have it in their blood and have lived within their flesh the dramas they express.

Interview conducted in Winter 2006 by Yannick Millon.



Charles T. Downey (http://72.14.209.104/search?q=cache:KJO0mu-TUmUJ:ionarts.blogspot.com/2006_11_01_archive.html+yannick+millon+on+rostropovich+at+orchestra+de+paris+2006&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=2&gl=us&ie=UTF-8 ) of the superb Washington, D.C. arts website journal IONARTS provides a moving translation of part of a review of Rostropovich's November 15th concert with the Orchestre de Paris by Marie-Aude Roux (Rostropovitch célèbre avec éclat Chostakovitch, November 18) for the famous newspaper, Le Monde:

Rarely has an audience expressed such emotion, manifested love and admiration as much for a musician as at the end of the first concert that Mstislav Rostropovich gave with the Orchestre de Paris, in the Salle Pleyel, on Wednesday, November 15. [...] Slava appeared very thin, moving slowly, but still keeping his will intact, which allowed him, barely recovered from a serious septicemia, to conduct the Shostakovich concerts at Pleyel to celebrate the centennial of the Russian composer's birth. [...]

Facing this music, which made his career as a cellist and caused him to abandon composition, Rostropovich was like a mystic before his god. His gestures were barely sketched, his body seemed to float, but his long cellist's hands sometimes traced rebellious bow strokes in the air like the wings of night birds, pulsing in the stridency and thunder at the end of the world or on the beaches of aphasic meditation. The man who with his cello played for the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 had just traversed the last distance separating us from Shostakovich. While Mstislav Rostropovich, visibly exhausted, held the large green score close to himself, turning toward the audience standing as if for a presentation in the Temple, it was impossible not to have the feeling that one was in the middle of experiencing an unforgettable moment.

Figure 11: Expressive hands of the great cellist and conductor.



Rostropovich Feted on his 80th Birthday

by Jim Heintz of the Associated Press

(http://www.wtop.com/?nid=114&sid=1098103 )

[In the last official honor over his long life, Rostropovich was awarded a medal -- the Order of Service to the Fatherland by President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on Tuesday, March 27, 2007 in celebration of his 80th birthday]. Having been hospitalized in February, Rostropovich walked slowly into the ceremony on the arms of his wife, the famous soprano opera singer, Galina Vishnevskaya, and President Vladimir Putin. The hall was adorned with decorations shaped like cellos. Rostropovich stated that, "I feel myself the happiest man in the world," after slowly rising from his chair, in remarks shown on Russian state television. "I will be even more happy if this evening will be pleasant for you."

Earlier, Puitin had issued a statement praising Rostropovich's musical and activist activities, which is a fitting tribute to a man who ennobled Russia by fighting for its human rights and artistic freedom that had before driven him from his homeland:

"In all your life and creative work you have many times shown the truth that art and morality together supplement each other and constitute a single goal. In all of the world you are known not only as a brilliant cellist and gifted conductor but as a confirmed defender of human rights and freedom of spirit and an uncompromising fighter for the ideals of democracy."

Figure 12: Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, greeting Rostropovich and his wife Galina Vishnevskaya in the Kremlin in Moscow, Tuesday, March 27, 2008. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Presidential Press Service, Mikhail Klimentyev)





Rostropovich died four weeks later, on Friday, April 27, 2007.






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