Friday, April 27, 2007

Mstislav Rostropovich, RIP

Mstislav Rostropovich, the famed cellist, has died, z'kan u'seva yamim. In my mind, it's one of the little ironies of history that he died only a few days after Boris Yeltsin. To me, the two names will always be linked because of their actions during the coup attempt of 1991, and more specifically the account in Reader's Digest that thrilled me a few months later. (I still have a copy.) Yeltsin's role is well known, of course. Rostropovich, in Paris at the time, settled his affairs (like many, he expected a bloody crackdown), got on a plane, charmed his way past passport control (or whatever it's called there), and went straight to the Russian Parliament's "White House" where the opposition had massed. He spent the rest of the time speaking live and on air and visiting, hugging, and giving encouragement to the protesters outside.

I remember one detail in particular from the story: When the man assigned to protect him fell asleep on his shoulder late one night, Rostropovich was left holding his machine gun. There's even a picture of it. After the coup had ended, his erstwhile bodyguard accompanied him to the airport to see him off. "Yuri, my friend," Rostropovich said, hugging him goodbye, "When you slept I held your machine gun. Come visit me in Paris, and when I sleep, you shall hold my cello."

Leaving aside his considerable accomplishments in music, that's a claim to immortality right there. R.I.P.

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