The Rostropovich Connection to Shostakovich

I was fortunate enough to attend many of National Symphony concerts with Shostakovich programmed in by Mstislav Rostropovich (aka Slava or Rosty) for the six years I lived in suburban Washington D.C. area (on the Maryland side), including some of my most memorable live performances. A truly rare opportunity was the world premier of Shostakovich's Rayok, with Rostropovich at the piano. Really fun, but at the same time sad, to listen to.

Probably because of his commitment as the music director of NSO, I didn't get to hear Rostropovich as cellist as much. In fact, I probably heard him as cellist more often outside of Washington, in Dallas and Chicago, as well as at the University of Maryland on the occasion of the first US cello congress. One funny incident was one of Rostropovich's teenage student playing a cello concerto (I forgot whose) with Rostropovich/NSO, and the string broke. They stood up, smiled, walked off stage, probably got another cello, and played on. The Bach Cello suites played by Rostropovich on EMI, and as encores at Dallas (1997 and 2000) and Chicago (1999), re-confirms my belief that no other cellist comes close, whenever Shostakovich or other cello masterpieces are concerned.

In recent years, Rostropovich seemed to devote more and more of his time to organize Shostakovich Festivals with some leading orchestras. (And similar thing festivals for Prokofiev and Britten, some of the composers personally linked to him.) We (my wife Sharon, my daughter Christine and myself) were unfortunate to just miss the Shostakovich Festival in 1998 staged by Rostropovich and London Symphony at the Barbican Centre (only able to catch a live glimpse on the video monitor of a chamber concert, because of our flight delays from DFW).

Sharon and I were fortunate to be able to attend the mini Shostakovich Festival staged by Rostropovich and Chicago Symphony in May, 1999. Not only was the music great, the on-stage talk by him, hosted by Henry Fogel, manager of CSO, was really lovely. When talking about his surprise memorization/performance of Shostakovich Cello Concerto No.1 to the composer, merely four days after he got the score as a surprise gift (and the secret of "not-asking"), he was as happy as a little child. After one of these concert, we visited the Art Institute of Chicago. To our happy surprise, Rostropovich was also there. Thanks to Sharon, we got some rare opportunity to chat with him, personally. Wonderful and memorable, although he kept thinking of us as Japanese.

I heard Andre Litton, often the conductor of NSO when Rostropovich was playing cello, a few times in Washington. When I moved to Dallas, I was happy to find him the music director of Dallas Symphony Orchestra, especially because his inclusion of Shostakovich music in their seasons and his Rostropovich connection. A recent concert by Litton/DSO of Shostakovich No.12, a little after the tragedy of 9-11, took on some tragic grandeur, and ranked as one of my most memorable DSO concert. (Although the Dallas Morning News critic didn't like it. I have found that I'm often on the exact opposite to this critic.)

The Litton-Rostropovich connection has brought Rostropovich to Dallas more than once in recent years. After all, we boast one of the finest concert halls in the world in our Meyerson. It is my favorite concert hall, of all the ones I ever attended concert in, including the symphony halls of Boston, Chicago, New York, Washington, London, Berlin, Amsterdam. Rostropovich's playing of Shostakovich Cello Concerto No.1, with Litton/DSO turned Sharon into a die-hard Shostakovich/Rostropovich fan. We experienced this Rostropovich magic on Nov. 27, 2000.

The great cellist/conductor provides me with a most appreciated and treasured link to Shostakovich and his music. Here is a photo of DDS (or DSCH, if you prefer) with Slava. Enjoy.

Prepared by Jeff Tian ( Last update June 25, 2002.
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