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Rostropovich delights audience with talk, class

| Friday, Feb. 21, 2003

When Mstislav Rostropovich is around, the bravos usually head in his direction. But he bestowed his enthusiasm, as well as musical wisdom and historical testimony, on Wednesday at educational activities in Oakland and Downtown.

History came alive when Rostropovich spoke at 2 p.m. at the McConomy Auditorium at Carnegie Mellon University about his experiences in his native Soviet Union. He was 14 and had already made his orchestral debut when his father died and he learned the meaning of "real suffering." He had to play 10 concerts just to earn enough money for 2 pounds of butter.

He told stories about his friends, composers Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev -- "both great composers but so different as people they were like from different planets."

And after a quartet of CMU string students played the first two movements of Shostakovich's Eighth Quartet, Rostropovich talked about the music's greatness and pointed out musical quotations that make it virtually a biography in sound of the composer.

Rostropovich -- nicknamed "Slava" -- was funny, too, admitting how he fooled his parents who thought he was practicing while they were out. And he said he told his wife, while they were living in Paris, that when he died she was to take him immediately to the airport and put his coffin in a Concorde. "I want to arrive in New York before I died in Paris," he joked.

The Heinz Hall stage also was packed Wednesday night with music students and professionals for a three-part master class. It began with a performance of Shostakovich's Seventh String Quartet by members of the Pittsburgh Symphony: Jennifer Orchard and Sarah Bloomquist on violins, Tatjana Mead Chamis on viola, and Mikhail Istomin on cello.

"Bravo," Slava said, leading the applause after the performance. "I feel like you gave me the master class."

Three cellists who study at CMU and the University of Pittsburgh received some detailed coaching after their performance of David Popper's "Requiem," a beautiful piece with an allusion to the tune of "Ave Maria." Last but certainly not least, 7-year-old cellist Clare Bradford played a movement from Jean-Baptiste Breval's Sonata in C major. Again Slava's "bravo" led the applause. After noting that he didn't start cello until he was 8, he told her she is "very, very talented."

Later, when she arrived at his dressing room with her parents, he greeted her with "There's my little soloist." He signed her program, had a photo taken with her and told her the Russian name for Clare.

But before everyone left the stage, the orchestra's cello section repeated Louis Lowenstein's arrangement of "Moonlight Serenade" that had been performed but not recorded in concert.

The final word onstage belonged to Mariss Jansons. The evening was an historical moment, he said, about which all in attendance might tell their children and grandchildren.

"He is one of the greatest artists in the world," Jansons said, "a genius who provides spiritual sunshine."

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