Friday, April 27, 2007

Farewell To A Giant

One of the towering figures of the music world has passed. Mstislav Rostropovich has died.

Mstislav Rostropovich, the ebullient master cellist who fought for the rights of Soviet-era dissidents and later triumphantly played Bach suites below the crumbling Berlin Wall, has died. He was 80.

Rostropovich died today in a Moscow cancer hospital, the Itar-Tass news agency reported. Rostropovich’s spokeswoman, Natalia Dollezhal, confirmed he had died but she did not provide other details.

Rostropovich, who resided in Paris after self-imposed exile, had intestinal cancer.

Rostropovich owned an estate in Jordanville in New York for several years but rarely visited. It was sold in November 2005 for $1.15 million. It featured 790 acres of woods, pastures and a large pond, along with five buildings.

I visited the Jordanville estate twice, once as a student in an advanced art seminar and again, many years later, when I was an adult. The seminar was a transformative experience in my life. I'm still amazed that I was chosen for it, since I'd been a terrible student and a constant thorn in the side of my instructors, but one teacher saw more than just a sullen, combative kid from a dirt-poor family. She took a huge risk fighting for my inclusion and I can never repay her for how much it changed my life. That seminar never would have happened if not for the sponsorship of Maestro Rostropovich, but I eventually, in a small and very personal way, ended up paying part of my debt to him.