Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russia: Rostropovich Marks 80th Birthday

Rostropovich, center, during a performance in Moscow in 2006 (ITAR-TASS) March 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- There was a time when one of the world's best-known cellists and conductors could never have imagined celebrating his birthday in Moscow, let alone at the Kremlin.

But when Mstislav Leopoldovich Rostropovich turns 80 today, the occasion will be marked in the Russian capital with a concert and gala dinner hosted by President Vladimir Putin.

Life In Exile

Rostropovich's opposition to the Soviet regime and his friendship with dissident writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the late '60s led to his official disgrace.
"If I say it was the happiest day of my life, that means it was really important for me." -- Rostropovich on the last day of the failed 1991 Soviet coup.

Rostropovich describes these times as one of the darkest periods of his life.

"One of the periods that was more or less happy was before 1969," Rostropovich said. "I've had a very happy life, but after 1969, a second period started when Solzhenitsyn came and lived with us. Then a bad period started for me in the Soviet Union. This period lasted until 1974, until my expulsion."

Rostropovich settled in the United States in 1974 with his wife, opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya, and their two children.

His Soviet citizenship was revoked four years later.

For almost 20 years, until 1994, he was the musical director and conductor of Washington's National Symphony Orchestra.

He continued to perform with some of the greatest musicians of the time, including Svyatoslav Richter and Vladimir Horowitz.

He developed close friendships with renowned composers such as Sergei Prokofiev, Benjamin Britten, and Dmitry Shostakovich, who wrote music for him.

A New Chapter

The fall of communism marked a new chapter in Rostropovich's life.

His spontaneous performance in Berlin shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was broadcast across the world, earning him international fame.

Rostropovich with pro-democracy demonstrators in Moscow on August 21, 1991 (TASS)

In 1990, his Soviet citizenship was restored.

And one year later, in August 1991, the failed coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev triggered the collapse of the Soviet Union.

MORE: In October 2006, RFE/RL's Russian Service spoke with opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya.

"August 1991, the 22nd, was the happiest day of my life," Rostropovich said. "I've had many happy days. So if I say it was the happiest day of my life, that means it was really important for me."

Again, Rostropovich rushed to the scene. Holding a Kalashnikov, he hailed the crowd that had gathered in Moscow to defend government buildings.

Since then, Rostropovich has divided his time between Russia, the United States, and France.

Physical, Political Rehabilitation

Rostropovich was hospitalized in February with what was described as a non-life-threatening condition.

Putin visited Rostropovich during his stay in the hospital, leading to speculation that the musician was in serious condition. Putin also awarded him a national award for his contribution to world music, sealing his political rehabilitation.

Rostropovich was released from the hospital earlier this month.

(RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report.)

RFE/RL Russia Report

RFE/RL Russia Report

SUBSCRIBE For news and analysis on Russia by e-mail, subscribe to "RFE/RL Russia Report."

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.