On April 27, 2007, the world mourned the passing of Mstislav Leopoldovich Rostropovich, the great Russian cellist and extremely gifted conductor, a person of unusual courage and irresistible charm. In 1974, as the result of their activities in defense of Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, he and his wife Galina Pavlovna Vishnevskaya were driven from their native land and deprived of their Soviet citizenship. For seven years, Solzhenitsyn had lived near Moscow at a dacha belonging to Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya. There the great author wrote his historical novel August 1914, and there the dramatic events surrounding the publication of The GULag Archipelago took place.
For 17 years, Rostropovich was conductor and musical director of the National Symphony Orchestra, as well as a parishioner of the Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Washington. The Cathedral bells, which for over 25 years have called the faithful to prayer during divine services, were donated to the church by Maestro Rostropovich and his wife Galina Pavlovna. Etched into the largest bell are the names of seven great Russian composers and musicians who had died in exile.
From October 12 to 16, special celebrations honoring the great Maestro were held in Washington.
Actually, the festivities began in October 11, when, at the invitation of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, His Grace Bishop Merkury of Zaraisk, Administrator of Patriarchal parishes in the USA, came to Washington to celebrate the divine services at the Cathedral of St John the Baptist. On Sunday, October 12, at a service attended by a large number of faithful, His Grace Bishop Merkury served the Slavonic Divine Liturgy; concelebrating were Archpriest Victor Potapov, Cathedral Rector, Archpriest Alexander Abramov, Priest Alexander Reznikoff, and Protodeacon Leonid Mickle. In homilies given at the all-night vigil on October 11 and at the conclusion of Divine Liturgy the following day, Vladyka spoke of the importance of church unity in love, and called upon everyone to strengthen the ties of union within the Russian Church. His Grace thanked the clergy and parishioners of the Cathedral for their efforts in the establishing of religious life in the Nation's capital. In memory of his first visit to ROCOR's cathedral in the nation's capital, Bishop Merkury gave the church two gilded processional fans.
On Sunday evening, Bishop Merkury served a solemn pannikhida [memorial service] for Mstislav Rostropovich. That service was the first in a series of tributes to the memory of the great Russian musician. In his remarks to those attending the Panikhida,Vladyka Merkury noted that Rostropovich was not only a superb cellist and musical conductor, but both a true Russian patriot and a good Christian, who by his example attracted others to be of service to God and to his fellow man. Among those praying at the pannikhida were the musician's daughter Olga Rostropovich, prize-winners of the Foundation's “Fund to Support Young Talented Musicians,” and others who were friends of and appreciated the talent of the great musician.
A commemorative meal was served in the Parish Hall following the Memorial Service. During that meal, many individuals shared their reminiscences of the great 20th Century Maestro.
“A person does not fully depart from life as long as he is still remembered.” With those words, His Excellency Sergei Ivanovich Kislyak, the new Russian Ambassador to the USA, opened the October 14 gala evening commemorating Mstislav Rostropovich in the Russian Embassy Golden Hall. Speakers at the evening gala reminisced about how constant was Rostropovich's devotion to friendship, how ready he was to do any good work, and how much he treasured freedom.
The sounds of music rang out at the Embassy gala. Olga Rostropovich, director of the Rostropovich Foundation “Fund to Support Young Talented Musicians,” brought to Washington a group of the Foundation's scholarship winners and soloists of the Galina Vishnevskaya Opera Center. They all gave virtuoso performances.
Members of the world-famous Washington Choral Society, with which Rostropovich had collaborated, performed American pieces, as well as Maestro's favorite Rachmaninoff setting of “O Theotokos Virgin, Rejoice.” Protopriest Victor Potapov, rector of Washington's Cathedral of St John the Baptist, offered his heartfelt thanks to the singers for their performance of that prayer. Fr Victor reminded those in attendance of the fact that the evening commemoration of Rostropovich coincided with the great Feast of the Protection of the Most-holy Theotokos.
A grand concert by a group of the “Fund to Support Young Talented Musicians” scholarship winners was presented on October 15 before an overflow audience at the Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts in the nation's capital. His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, attended the concert.
The final event in the week-long Tribute to Rostropovich took place on October16, in the US Library of Congress, and was opened by Librarian of Congress James Billington, a renowned expert on Russian culture and a personal friend of Rostropovich.
At the Library of Congress event, His Excellency Yashar Aliev, Azerbaijan's Ambassador, presented a talk on Rostropovich's early life in Baku, where he had been born in 1927, and on the close ties the great musician maintained with the people of Azerbaijan over the course of his entire life. Mr Aliev presented to Dr Billington for the Library of Congress Collection, the first copy of the book/album Rostropovich: Great Man of Baku. The volume was produced and published through the efforts of Mehriban Aliyeva, wife of the president of Azerbaijan.
At the October 16 evening event at the Library of Congress, a unique exhibition of photos of Mstislav Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya was opened. Also, “Soldiers of Music: Rostropovich Returns to Russia,” an American-made documentary film which in 1991 received an Emmy Award, was shown. It is a remarkable film about the first visit Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya made to Russia after 16 long but productive years of exile in the West. The film made a profound impression upon the viewers gathered in the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress. Olga Rostropovich introduced the film.
Principal organizer of the Tribute to Maestro Rostropovich in Washington was the International Firebird Arts Foundation, under the direction of its president, Xenia Woyevodsky, a long-time parishioner of the Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Washington.