Monday, April 30, 2007

Slava forever

A friend has asked me to share my few personal memories of Rostropovich...

About three years ago, I interviewed him briefly backstage at the Barbican for The Strad's 'Double Acts' back page about his working relationship with Maxim Vengerov. The maestro turned on his very considerable charm and talked in rapturous terms about his much younger colleague.

Thing is, I'm a closet cellist-manquee. When I heard Han-Na Chang (incidentally, a Rostropovich protegee) play in Verbier 4-5 years back, it hit me between the eyes that the cello is the most beautiful and expressive instrument on the planet. And that if I could have my time over again, I would learn it and play it and never stop. It would have solved everything I disliked about playing the violin (high frequencies buzzing in one's left ear, plus desperately close, fiddly fingering), not to mention the piano (too many notes, my dear Horowitz) and the repertoire is 20-carat gold...

So at the end of the interview, I thank Maestro for the joy and wonder of his playing, which I heard on a few memorable occasions, and mention that I would love to have played the cello. "When you decide to start," said Maestro, "then let me know, and I will be your teacher."

I missed my chance. Well, he'd have been disappointed in me. I'd have got the strings the wrong way round and been severely blocked by the very notion of trying to go above third position.

The last time I saw Rostropovich perform was in Vilnius in 2004, where he conducted the Tchaikovsky Pathetique Symphony. It was glorious: like stepping into a Melodiya recording from the 1950s...The march in particular was far slower than most conductors take it these days. A friend asked Maestro about his choice of tempo later on. His response, apparently, was: "It's a march." You must be able to march to it. It made sense. And the final movement: devastation alive, raw, eternal, unforgettable.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Farewell, Slava

Mstislav Rostropovich has passed away.

The Guardian has a full obituary, tributes from James MacMillan, Steven Isserlis and others, and a selection of recommended recordings.

He was a pervasive musical figurehead, a by-word for inspiration and idealism, a last link with Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and an unforgettable presence with or without his cello.

UPDATE, 8.15 Saturday 28 April:
A press release from 98.7WFMT, Chicago's Classical Experience, informs us that the radio station is paying tribute to Rostropovich today by broadcasting recordings from its archives of his cello performances and conducting. In addition, the station is airing voicemails and reading emails from listeners recounting memories of the world-renowned musician, who visited Chicago many times during his lifetime. Rare interviews have also been posted on

There's a very touching tribute by Richard Morrison in The Times. He says, among other things: "...the music from Rostropovich’s cello wasn’t just beautiful. It was a transcendental message of hope, surging and irresistible, from one soul to another – his to yours. If I live to be 100, I don’t expect to hear another sound that touches me so deeply."

Clive Davis posts a video of Rostropovich playing Bach and some pertinent political moments from the New York Times's obituary.

UPDATE: Sunday morning: Opera Chic has a series of tribute posts and some very interesting links to news sites etc.

JDCMB Pick of the Proms

Rightyho, prospectus duly plundered. What follows is just a taste of the interesting (or just really attractive) dates that didn't make the national press yesterday.

15 July: Buskaid and the Soweto String Ensemble meet John Eliot Gardiner and the English Baroque Soloists. Intriguing.

18 July: Kurt Masur celebrates turning 80 by joining together his two orchestras, the Orchestre National de France and our own London Philharmonic.

21 July: A short but lovely French Prom featuring Steven Isserlis in Saint-Saens's Cello Concerto No.2, and also Faure's Cantique de Jean Racine. Thierry Fischer conducts.

23 July lunchtime: recital by seriously hot fiddler James Ehnes and pianist Eduard Laurel.

29 July: Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble/Mark Minkowski with Anne Sofie von Otter; programme includes Berlioz Les nuits de'ete.

30 July: Yefim Bronfman plays Esa-Pekka Salonen's Piano Concerto, with composer conducting.

3 August: Semyon Bychkov conducts Rachmaninov Symphony No.2 with BBCSO.

6 August: Renee Fleming evening, with Korngold arias from Die Kathrin and Das Wunder der Heliane among the goodies.

12 August: Gotterdammerung conducted by Donald Runnicles, Christine Brewer as Brunnhilde.

25 August: Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw in Wagner and Debussy.

4 September: Barenboim and the Vienna Phil go Austro-Hungaromanian.

8 September: Last Night stars Anna Netrebko, Andrew Kennedy and Josh Bell. OMG, please tell me Netrebko isn't going to sing 'Rule, Britannia'?!

PS - huge thanks to Alex Ross for picking up on the Tasmin busking story and noticing what the crux of the matter really was...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A very different kind of festival...

I regret not having discovered, until today, violinist-blogger Simon Hewitt Jones's reports from the Mozart in Palestine festival through the first half of April. It's a moving travelogue full of insight and incident, lavishly illustrated with photos and videos - well worth reading in its entirety if you haven't already. Don't miss the 'Queen of the 1001 Nights' aria...


I had a lot of s*)% to deal with yesterday and everything happened at the time I should have been heading for the Proms launch. By the time the sighs of relief had been breathed, 'Old Nick' would have finished his speech. So for the moment here's the report from today's Independent giving some of the highlights...which include an evening with the mind-boggling Nitin Sawhney, a Brass Day (billed as 'loud'), and a new composition by Rachel Portman about Hurricane Katrina (Portman is best known as an excellent film composer, and a refreshing change from the Anglo-German youngsters trying to be Berg a century too late).

There's also an evening with Michael Ball, of which Nick Kenyon apparently said "We are responding to what audiences want to hear". Cue yells about dumbing down. It's Nick's last season. Maybe he just doesn't care any more?

On the other hand, anyone who saw Michael Ball as Purcell in the Tony Palmer/John Osborne film England, My England, may stop and reflect that it's not such a bad idea. Maybe we ought to listen first and judge afterwards.

I'll pick out some suitably idiosyncratic JDCMB Proms (assuming there are some) once I've plundered the prospectus. Meanwhile, you can see the full listings of what's on.