Mstislav Leopoldovich Rostropovich, (1927–2007), was Russian conductor and
pianist and one of the best-known cellists of the 20th century.
Trained by his parents (a cellist and a pianist) and at the Moscow Conservatory
(1943–48), Rostropovich became professor of cello at the conservatory in
1956. He began touring abroad in the 1950s. He also performed as a pianist in
recitals with his wife, the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, and in 1968 he made
his debut as a conductor. When in 1970 Rostropovich made clear his support of
the dissident Soviet writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the government sharply
curtailed his ability to travel. In 1974, however, he and his wife were
permitted to leave the country, and in 1975 they announced their decision not
to return to the Soviet Union. In 1977 Rostropovich became music director of
the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., a post he held until
1994. The Soviet government deprived the couple of their citizenship in
1978 but reversed that decision in 1990.
Although sometimes criticized for occasional over-romanticism, Rostropovich was
admired for his keen musicianship, both in contemporary works and in the
established concert repertoire. His exploitation of the tonal resources of the
cello was considered exceptional. Composers who wrote works for him include Aram
Khachaturian, Sergey Prokofiev, Dmitry Shostakovich, Benjamin Britten, and
Witold Lutosławski. The recipient of numerous awards, Rostropovich was given
the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1987 and the Japan Art
Association’s Praemium Imperiale prize for music in 1993.