By this time, Vishnevskaya and her cellist husband, Mstislav Rostropovich, a figure every bit as Olympian as Casals, were in exile, too. Their presence would honor Washington from 1977 to 1994.
A Soviet product in every sense, Vishnevskaya had survived every kind of domestic squalor and post-revolutionary horror, including an alcoholic father who had gone after her mother with an ax. Neighbors disappeared in Stalin’s purges. The 900-day German siege of Leningrad killed at least a half-million fellow citizens. Two marriages failed. An only son died in early childhood.
Yet, as she spelled out in a devastating memoir published in 1984, superstardom only made Soviet cynicism, corruption and exploitation more oppressive. Like a musical call girl, she was summoned to perform at A-list Party parties. A post-Stalinist prime minister offered Rostropovich superior housing in return for his wife’s, well, companionship. A 46-day tour of the United States demanded four “Aidas,” a “Butterfly” and 11 concerts of her, and 25 concerts of him.
“Over there, everything was backward,” she explained years later in a U.S. interview. “We were actors in life and human beings onstage.” Dollar earnings went to Gosconcert, the state concert monopoly.
The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, leading to associations with the dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn and physicist Andrei Sakharov, was the game-changer. Until his expulsion from the Soviet Union, Solzhenitsyn lived in the Rostropovich country house. Declared “ideological renegades,” the couple followed him westward a few years later. In 1978, the Soviet Union revoked their citizenship.
It was restored only in 1990, a year after Rostropovich flew to Berlin to play solo Bach as the wall came down. A year later, he rushed to the support of the embattled Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow.
Cello in hand, his statue now stands at the corner of Bryusov and Yeliseyevsky alleys in central Moscow. “I’m proud that I knew Rostropovich,” said President Vladimir Putin, apparently without a blush. “Such people, without a doubt, made up and make up the pride of our country.”
Mourned as well as honored, Vishnevskaya followed Rostropovich in death by five years. Shortly before she died Dec. 11, Putin awarded her the Order of Merit to the Fatherland, Russia’s highest honor. He then laid a wreath on her coffin. At the sixth annual Rostropovich festival in Baku, Azerbaijan, the cellist’s home town, the conductor, Zubin Mehta, visibly in tears, dedicated a fragment of Verdi’s “Masked Ball” to her. Many in the audience cried with him.
Unlike Rostropovich, Huberman left no public statue. Unlike Vishnevskaya, he left no foundation for young performers. Though generous with time and money, he was only incidentally a teacher. In 1982, four great players — Stern, Gitlis, Ida Haendel and Shlomo Mintz — were invited to Jerusalem to commemorate the centennial of his birth. But the Israel Philharmonic is his monument, and Aronson’s film a salutary reminder of what it meant and how it got there.
Schoenbaum is a freelance writer.
Jewish Film Festival
The DCJCC’s 23rd Annual Jewish Film Festival runs through Jan. 13 with 55 films representing 15 countries at 14 venues. The lineup can be found here. “Orchestra of Exiles” will be shown at 7 p.m. Monday at the Goethe-Institut, 814 Seventh St. NW.