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Today we look at a plaque that hangs on the wall of the Voronezh Music College and informs all who bother to stop and read, that the great musician Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007), an honorary citizen of the city of Voronezh, conducted master classes here in 2002, 2004 and 2006. But there is more than just a plaque here. As you can see in the middle of the three photos immediately below, the institution located at 41 Revolution Prospect is called the Voronezh Musical College and is named after the Rostropoviches. There is a good reason for that, just as there is a good reason that Rostropovich, already well aged, would have come to Voronezh to offer master classes over the course of five years at a time when he was surely very busy and slowing down.
You see, Witold Rostropovich (1856-1913), Mstislav’s grandfather, spent most of his adult life in Voronezh. A pianist, composer and publisher, Witold moved to Voronezh in 1879 and stayed there until his death. He taught at the men’s gymnasium and performed concerts from time to time. His son Leopold Rostropovich (1892-1942), Mstislav’s father, was born in Voronezh, later attending the conservatory in St. Petersburg. Leopold was a cellist, teacher and conductor, who subsequently worked in Saratov and Baku – where Mstislav was born.
The college itself was founded in 1904 as an affiliate of the Imperial Russian Musical Society of Music Classes. It received the status of a musical college in 1911. A nice history of the college on a Voronezh-based website tells us that, thanks to Witold Rostropovich, even before the college opened, aspiring local musicians were able to study their craft. On August 24, 1922, Leopold Rostropovich returned to his native city to perform a concert of works by Sergei Rachmaninov at this location. The college was officially named after the Rostropovich family in 2002, and in 2004, as noted above, Mstislav came to participate in the ceremony marking the college’s 100th anniversary. According to the site I’m crimping from, Rostropovich’s appearance was a “genuine triumph,” and the five master-classes he conducted over the years were “unforgettable.” The site also quotes a “touching” telegram from Vladimir Putin on the occasion, but I trust we can skip quoting that. The master classes offered by Rostropovich in February 2002, February 2004 and December 2006 were the last ones he ever conducted.
I now have the pleasure of sharing one of the most fascinating, entertaining and funny videos I have ever encountered. Someone in 1980 – and who was videotaping in 1980? – had the incredible smarts to turn a video camera on Rostropovich, Vishnevskaya and the legendary pianist Arthur Rubinstein and just let it run while the trio ate and drank together at table. This took place in Deauville, France. The trio switch back and forth between Russian, English and French as any true globetrotters might. Their topics of conversation are broad, indeed – language itself, the smoking of cigars (Vishnevskaya insists she never smoked anything but cigars), the necessity of salt on food, Rostropovich’s adulation of Rubinstein, Rostropovich getting Rubinstein to sing a Tchaikovsky melody, and much, much more. This video is nine minutes and fourteen seconds of well-spent leisure time. This is one of those rare things that, once you have seen it, you will never forget it. Rostropovich is a ham deluxe, goading people on, teasing them, hogging attention and lavishing love on a legend.
Voronezh got a good deal of mileage out of Rostropovich. They had him there in person when, in 2002, they unveiled a plaque honoring his grandfather on the home where Witold lived. He was there again in 2006 when a plaque was unveiled honoring the fact that Mstislav’s friend Dmitry Shostakovich performed a concert in Voronezh in 1957 (I’ll be writing about that sometime in the future).
And there is one more little detail about Rostropovich’s 2004 visit. I take this directly from a report in Komsomolskaya Pravda Voronezh in 2006:
“During his last visit Mstislav Rostropovich received what was probably the most unusual title of his entire career. And that is keeping in mind that he is an honorary professor at fifty places of higher learning in the world. During the Third Traditional Tournament of Free-Style Karate in Voronezh, he was given an honorary black belt! The famous musician commented on the gift as follows: ‘I long ago surpassed Brezhnev in the number of orders and medals I have received. But I seriously doubt that any of my colleagues can claim that, among their honors, they are honorary karate specialists! It is an ancient form of battle, no less so than the art of playing the cello. I am quite touched’…”
And, finally, I must quote a description of Rostropovich drawn from the supporting text to a video of him in Voronezh on a local TV station. This about says it all:
“Mstislav Rostropovich is a distinguished cellist, conductor and pianist. His exceptional talent, his unflagging energy, his unique combination of being a great artist and humanist of uncommon power and of magnetically attractive personality, have determined his entirely unique place in the history of classical music.”