The world has lost one of its voices, a voice both beautiful and bold.
The great cellist and humanitarian, Mstislav Rostropovich, died today in Moscow at the age of 80.
"When I started learning the cello, I fell in love with the instrument because it seemed like a voice - my voice," Rostropovich once told Strad magazine.
Rostropovich's voice was unmistakable.
In 2000 I had the incredible privilege of playing in the Pasadena Symphony as we accompanied Rostropovich. I knew a few of his recordings, namely the Brahms Double Concerto, with David Oistrakh, made some half a century before. I didn't realize how distinct his playing was until I heard it live: I recognized it in an instant.
I was stunned by the sound pouring from Rostropovich's cello. Whatever his age, wherever he was, it was absolutely his voice.
It was a clear, unmistakable voice, used without hesitation, on stage and out in the world.
He spent much of his life in the Soviet Union, a place not amenable to the voice of the individual, or to those who would make a statement and take a stand.
Yet he did: he sheltered author Alexander Solzhenitsyn during his bitter fight against Soviet authorities in the 1970s, and for doing so, was forced to leave his beloved Russia and stripped of his citizenship by Leonid Brezhnev in 1978. When the Berlin Wall came down, he placed himself in front of the rubble and played Bach.
Those walls do fall. And people like Rostropovich stand.
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