Magazine article The New Yorker

The Talk of the Town: Slava at Seventy-Five

Magazine article The New Yorker

The Talk of the Town: Slava at Seventy-Five

Article excerpt

The voice of the man who answered a phone call from the lobby of a midtown hotel last week was unmistakably that of Mstislav Rostropovich. "Helllloooo!" it roared. "Yes, you are early, but come up, please, now. Floor feeefty-two!" The Maestro had just arrived to play the Dvorak Cello Concerto and the American premiere of a concerto by the young French composer Eric Tanguy with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, at Carnegie Hall. He opened the door to his suite and delivered another hello that might have come from an entire double-bass section. Dressed in a chocolate-brown three-piece suit with red-and-silver pinstripes, he looked remarkably hale for a man who had just turned seventy-five. "Soooo," he said, after taking a seat at the head of the dining table. "I don't think about living so long. When I am thirty-five years old, I feel life is so long--so lonnng! After that, so short!"

Two weeks ago, Rostropovich celebrated his birthday with a gala concert at the Barbican Centre, in London, where he was feted by a galaxy of musical colleagues. Now he was more interested in celebrating the memory of three composers who had written major cello pieces for him--Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Britten. "They are the greatest musical figures in my life," he said. "And one is completely not like the other!

"Shostakovich," he said, furrowing his brow, "was a genius, but an unhappy man, because he understood the political realities. He knew that we have to glorify our superiors, but with music they can understand.

"Britten," he said, breaking into a grin. "A nice Englishman! So good manners! A wonderful friend!

"And Prokofiev," he growled, leaning forward. "He was naive, like a child--a very interesting personality. You know, he liked perfume very much. Whenever I travelled, he asked me to bring him back a fragrance. He very much wanted a French fragrance. It was called . . ." With long, tapering fingers, he tried to pluck the missing name out of the air.

"Chanel?" I suggested.





Rostropovich clapped his hands. "That's it!" he said. "Unfortunately, I only went to France after Prokofiev died."

"What was Prokofiev's personality like?" I asked.

Rostropovich leaned forward. …

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