Friday, April 27, 2007

Remembering Rostropovich

I first heard the news of Rostropovich's death on my XM BBC feed, so I made it a point to check out the story on the Web site. My one opportunity to hear Rostropovich in concert was at a recital he gave in Singapore. I was particularly delighted that he included the cello version of Schnittke's "Suite in the Old Style." On the surface this appears as sentimental nostalgia, and I suspect that it is still heard that way by most audiences everywhere. However, Schnittke had a sarcastic streak in his nostalgia that Rostropovich handled with politic delicacy, making it clear only to those who knew how to hear it. Programming an anti-authoritarian like Schnittke in Singapore involved a certain amount of risk, but the risk was a subtle one that Rostropovich handled with aplomb.

The BBC announcer tried to portray Rostropovich as an artist who preferred to avoid politics but could not always do so. Find this hard to believe on the basis of his own reflection of the letter he wrote to Pravda in support of Solzhenitsyn back in 1970:

The best step was not found in music, but in one page of this letter. Since that moment my conscience was clean and clear.

I think it would be fairer to say that Rostropovich was strongly political without being blatant about it. That was the spirit in which he introduced Singapore to Schnittke.

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