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Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH
mourns the passing of the great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich

Dear Alice,
On this sad day for cellists all over the world, have you got any pithy remarks on the passing of the glorious Rostropovich?

Dear G,
No, I don't. Today is not a day for pithy comments.
Steven Isserlis on the BBC mentioned 'energy and charisma' (and he ought to know, if anybody does), with Karine Georgian remembering how demanding and inspiring he was as a teacher -- while music journalists all over the world busily dusted off and polished their superlatives: generous, warm, brave, passionate, creative, charming, earthy, flirtatious, powerful, never-be-seen-again, unsurpassable-service-to-cello-repertoire, larger-than-life, politically courageous etc etc.

To me, none of these words say enough.

In common with most cellists, I have my Rostropovich story -- it's always the same story, but here it is, for what it's worth:

I was twelve and had only just started the cello, when I first heard him live, with the National Symphony Orchestra in Kennedy Center, in Washington -- playing (what else?) the Dvorák. And for the first time in my life I was transported beyond time, while listening to music. The sound that he produced, in the slow movement, completely reduced me to tears. In common with about 55 other cellists I took my glossy program backstage for his swirling autograph. You have to imagine me, not 40 and voluptuous, but thin, eager, and pale, and when my turn came I just told him, 'I cried'. And he took my shoulders in his hands and kissed me (as he'd kissed every single female there, regardless of age) on both cheeks, and I swore to myself (as I'm sure every one of us did) that I'd never wash again, though of course I had to.

But I felt then -- as I've felt every time since, whether in the audience, hearing a masterclass, or just listening -- just!!!! -- to one of his many recordings, that I had been touched by greatness. Not only musical greatness, either, but personal greatness: a profound passion for life, an exuberant fearlessness, a completely genuine character. Which is why I say that heaven is a richer place today, for having Rostropovich in it.

And another light on earth just went out.

Mstislav Rostropovich in 1978

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Dear Alice
So relieved to find a lone voice of reason among my search in vain for a really negative review of this piece of tosh (Coram Boy) which I just saw at a preview on Broadway tonight in New York! If you thought the London production dodgy you should see this one -- not! Truly the worst evening in a theatre for a long time -- most roles miscast and don't let's even go near the assorted accents where the servants speak more poshly than their employers. And it was a benefit for a children's organisation of note. Aaaaaaagh!
(And I run a theatre here!)

Thanks for letting me know I'm not completely nuts. Of course it got the regulation standing ovation as at least they got through their lines!
Best wishes, Alice
Peter Tear

Dear Peter,
Thanks for this. Thanks for letting me know that I'm not completely nuts!!!!!

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Dear Alice -
Tonight I was privileged to hear an absolutely astonishing performance of the Brahms Piano Concerto No 2 by Emanuel Ax with the Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst. The cello soloist was our principal Desmond Hoebig. It was unbelievably gorgeous!

That said, I think the audience was collectively boggled and thrilled at the same time, when, on coming out for his solo bow, Mr Ax went into the cello section, emerging hand-in-hand with Mr Hoebig, and insisting that the two of them share the bow! Next time around when Mr Welser-Möst accompanied Mr Ax to the forefront, once again Mr Ax commandeered Mr Hoebig to appear with them as a trio at the front of the stage, bowing in unison.

Have you ever seen this done before? I haven't, which is maybe why I'm still ga-ga over the entire thing. It was a magnificent performance, no question, and I, for one, am happy that Mr Hoebig was singled out for this acknowledgement, because he surely deserved it! Wouldn't it be nice if more orchestra members were invited to share in the applause in this way?

Kelly Ferjutz in Cleveland

Dear Kelly,
Actually, this is such a MEGA cello solo (the best in the entire repertoire) that I've never known it NOT to happen (for the cellist to get to bow). I've been lucky enough to play the cello solo myself twice, once with David Parkhouse and once with Leslie Howard, and they were both equally and hugely generous to me, while I also recall some pianist or other (the cellist is the MAIN feature, of course!!!!) calling Tim Hugh for any number of bows with him, after Brahms' 2nd piano concerto, while I was sitting in his section. However, Emanual Ax is my all-time hero pianist, so if HE thought Mr Hoebig was hot stuff then I'm very envious of your being there!!!!!

It is a point often bitterly noted (if not universally acknowledged) by wind players that string solos get much more attention and acknowledgement than wind solos, even really big wind solos. I admit that this is true, but would urge wind players to note that EVERY concert for them is likely to contain loads of solos, whereas string players spend the majority of their time merely leading their troops. Therefore, we DESERVE more attention for our solos.

This is especially the case, frankly, as it takes more nerve for a string player to suddenly throw off the cape of being one among many and become THE CELLO SOLOIST (or violin, or viola, or even -- see Mahler's First -- double bass soloist). It's impossible not to notice the little bustle and stir of interest -- hang on, what happened to the rest of the cellos; wakey wakey? -- in the audience, for example, as people crane around to see where that (exquisite) noise is coming from ...

Assuming it IS a cello, of course ...

Copyright © 4 May 2007 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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