Monday, May 7, 2012

Rostropovich: The Genius of the Cello

I have heard all the stories about Rostropovich over the years and of course have heard many of his recordings (and I saw him play once, in the early 1970s, when my parents took me to the first concert he gave in DC at the Kennedy Center, though I'm afraid I didn't totally appreciate it at the time).* But I recently happened across this BBC documentary about him that I found enlightening and that made me appreciate him in a new way.

I loved this film both for informative value and as a piece of cinema. It's beautifully done in every way. There are interviews with many of Rostropovich's students, with his wife, his daughters, and with him, as well as footage of performances going back to his Soviet days. There is a great deal of discussion about the many works that he inspired or commissioned and how this revitalized the cello as a solo instrument. One very interesting technique here is a number of sequences in which the interviewees are filmed while listening to the same music the viewer of the film is hearing -- it's quite moving.

It's about an hour and a half, well worth the time. I recommend it highly.

*After I posted this earlier, I was remembering that I believe I actually shared a stage with Rostropovich once, at the first Cello Congress that was held at the University of Maryland in 1982. There was an orchestra of about 200 cellists (scary thought, isn't it?), and I was somewhere in the back while he was conducting. But I don't remember him.

Also, I was once a finalist in the National Symphony's college level concerto competition, and though I didn't win, I did get a certificate that was signed by Rostropovich, who was conductor of the NSO at the time, though I'm sure he wasn't at the finals when I played the Rococo Variations on the stage at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall (and a good thing, too -- my friends who came helpfully told me, "You were the most out of tune of everyone who played." At least they were honest.).

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