NUMEROUS BAKU MUSIC FESTIVALS HAS SEEN A POPULARITY SURGE IN RECENT YEARS. HOWEVER, THE INTERNATIONAL MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVICH FESTIVAL, ORGANIZED BY THE HEYDAR ALIYEV FOUNDATION, AZERBAIJANI MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND THE MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVICH FOUNDATION IS STILL ONE OF THE MOST BELOVED BY BAKUVIANS. EVERY TIME THEY COME TO TOWN, CLASSICAL MUSIC LOVERS LOOK FORWARD TO AN OPPORTUNITY TO SEE LIVE PERFORMANCES OF THE WORLD BEST MUSICIANS, WHOSE POPULARITY HAS SECURED THEIR FUTURE CONCERT SCHEDULE FOR SEVERAL YEARS AHEAD.
OLGA ROSTROPOVICH, THE ART DIRECTOR OF THE MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVICH FESTIVAL IN BAKU AND MOSCOW, RUSSIAN HONORED ART WORKER AND DAUGHTER OF ONE OF THE GREATEST CELLISTS OF THE 20TH CENTURY MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVICH IN AN INTERVIEW WITH AZERI OBSERVER SPEAKS AFFECTIONATELY ABOUT HER ACCOMPLISHED FATHER, HIS TIES WITH AZERBAIJAN AND THE CONCEPT OF THE ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVICH FESTIVAL.
BY RAYA ABBASOVA
AZERI OBSERVER CONTRIBUTOR
Question: I think it is not a secret for you that classical music lovers in Baku are excited about the Mstislav Rostropovich Festivals.
Answer: I am pleased to hear that. Mstislav Rostropovich has always been and remains the best example of a highly professional musician. It determines the approach to the festival concept: that performing musicians should be the best of the best. All the festivals are organized in line with this concept. Every time I plan the festival programs, I think what my Dad would think of the participants and their repertoire. I would like to emphasize that the first Mstislav Rostropovich festival was held in Baku, the home city of my father, in 2007. Dad was proud to be called ‘Bakuvian’ and was extremely grateful to the Head of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev, who give him the Motherland back. Words cannot express the feelings that Mstislav Rostropovich had while walking down the street where his parents used to live in Baku many years ago or even entering the house where he was born. Today this street is named after Leopold and Mstislav Rostropovich and the house where my grandfather’s family once lived has been converted into a dedicated museum. Every time I visit Baku, I take my guests from the festival there, and they touch the Rostropovich history with affection. I am grateful to the staff of the House Museum and its director Sheila Heydarova for their reverent attitude to everything related to the memories of our family.
Q.: The influence of Leopold Rostropovich at the Azerbaijani cello school deserves special attention. He taught such famous Azerbaijani musicians such as Asaf Zeynalli, German Krupkin, Alekper Dashdamirov, Isaak Tulich. If we continue making the ‘family tree’ it is worth mentioning Tulich’s student, People’s Artist of Azerbaijan Sabir Aliyev, who, in turn, raised a generation of talented cellists in Azerbaijan.
A.: I would add that my grandfather and his family moved to Baku at the invitation of Uzeyir Hajibeyli. (Ed. note: famous Azerbaijani composer.) Leopold Rostropovich had an excellent musical education – he studied at St. Petersburg Conservatory in a course headed by famous teacher Alexander Wierzbilowicz. Wierzbilowicz also taught Semyon Kozolupov, who later became a teacher of my father. My grandfather was born into the family of a well-known pianist and composer, so, we can speak about a musical dynasty of the Rostropovich’s. Understanding all the responsibility entrusted to him, Leopold Rostropovich not only taught cello at the Azerbaijan Conservatory, but also created the first string quartet in the country in the 1920s. He generously shared his knowledge, talent and performance experience with his students.
Q.: You always speak about your relatives with special reverence. Did you inherit these tight family ties from your farther?
A.: I think so. Dad treasured the memories of his parents. He lost his father at the age of 15, and regretted spending so little time with this dear person. However, Leopold Rostropovich with his bright pedagogical talent and sound morals, played an invaluable role in building the strong personality of his son.
Q.: Did Leopold Rostropovich tell his son about their life in Baku?
A.: He did quite often, and always emphasized, that it had been one of the happiest periods of his life. Facts confirm that he was sincere. Effective teaching and concert activity, a happy family life, the birth of his son Mstislav – all these events colored the Baku period of his life in the brightest colors. There are many rare exhibits in the Rostropovich Museum House showing the pages of the Rostropovich’s’ life in Baku. For example, a photograph of little Mstislav in the his father’s cello case – a kind of professional ‘baptism.’ I cannot suppress my excitement while reading a letter written by Leopold Rostropovich in 1942 shortly before his death. This letter is nothing but a spiritual testament addressed to his son on his 15th birthday: “We named you Slava (Ed. note: Slava, a short version of the name Mstislav, means ‘glory’ in Russian), and our warmest wish is to see you in the full glory of your talent.” However, for the Rostropovich’s ‘personality’ implies a mandatory symbiosis of high professional and human qualities, and therefore this letter further reads: “We wish you to reach the level of Pablo Casals as a cellist, be equal to Rachmaninov as a pianist and composer, and, most importantly, always be a gentleman; the most charming person in society, and a highly cultural and educated man, who is always welcomed as a guest and academician.”
A.: Well, everything came true. Mstislav Rostropovich has gone down in history as a talented and revered musician.
Q.: Since we touched upon my dad’s parents, it would be unfair of me not to mention my grandmother, (wife of Leopold Rostropovich) Sofya Fedotova, who taught piano at the Azerbaijan Conservatory. She was a recognized pianist and teacher.
Q.: You invited French pianist Alexandre Kantorow to the X Anniversary Rostropovich Festival, who won the first prize and the Grand Prix of the XVI International Tchaikovsky Competition two months later. What was the reason for this?
A.: The activity of the Mstislav Rostropovich Foundation aims at identifying talented youth. We organize concerts of young talents as a part of our festivals. So, we constantly stay in tune with up and coming artists. Therefore, it results more from constant work focused on the set tasks, than to the providence talent. Alexandre has a remarkable musical education, and currently his musical mentor at the private conservatory Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris is Rena Shereshevskaya.
Q.: We are very proud of the success of our compatriot Rena Shereshevskaya- Mustafabeyli’s student. A graduate of the Bulbul music school in Baku, she later studied at the Moscow Conservatory in a course led by the famous pianist and teacher Lev Vlasenko. She won deep respect and wide recognition as a talented musician and teacher, and had been awarded with the prestigious French Order of Arts and Letters for her significant contributions to upbringing talented musicians.
A.: The results speak for themselves. During the last Baku Rostropovich Festival, Rena Shereshevskaya, at my request, held a workshop in Baku music school No 21. Such creative contacts will have an effect without fail, especially since Rena has a God-given talent as a teacher!
Q.: Moscow Rostropovich Festival always starts on March 27 – the birthday of Mstislav Rostropovich …
A.: This did not happen by accident. In a sense, it is maintaining the established tradition of celebrating my father’s birthday. On his birthday, he always performed a concert, and admirers of his art from all over the world came to attend. My father was demanding of himself, and under no circumstances compromised his professionalism. I have no right to lower the bar he set for himself. Therefore, as I have already said, the best music pieces performed by the best musician should compile all the concerts dedicated to his name. So, I celebrate my Dad’s birthday with the festival in Moscow. Meanwhile, on the anniversary of his death I am in Azerbaijan. On April 27, I always visit the Cathedral of the Holy Myrrh Bearing Women in Baku. On this day, the head of the cathedral, Archpriest Leonid Miltykh personally holds a memorial prayer for Mstislav Rostropovich. I am extremely grateful to him and all the church personnel for it. I admire the tolerance of Azerbaijani people. There are several Orthodox churches, new synagogues, a Catholic cathedral, and such beautiful mosques in Baku. I know that the Cathedral of the Holy Myrrh-Bearing Women was reconstructed and reopened after more than 80 years of desolation, thanks to the support of Azerbaijani philanthropist and entrepreneur Aydin Kurbanov. It is an important fact that Heydar Aliyev himself took part in its reopening.
The state policy, based on respect for various religions, largely determines the social situation and prospective cultural development of the country. The achievements of modern Azerbaijan are obvious, and I am extremely happy that my father’s motherland occupies an increasingly significant place in the world’s cultural space. One of the reasons for my happiness is that the name of Mstislav Rostropovich and the festival named after him contributes to this notable process.