A caption with Wednesday's story about Mstislav Rostropovich's 25th anniversary concert incorrectly identified two people. The correct identifications are, from the left, Gail Berendzen, Patrick Hayes, Richard Berendzen and Gail Siegel.
"For me," said Mstislav Rostropovich, "25 years, that's like three weeks. I only realize that's a long time if I see my face in the mirror. But if I see the face of my dear friend Patrick Hayes, it's like only three weeks. . . . After 25 years, I have a little less hair and Patrick has -- I don't know how -- more hair."
After a day spent negotiating with the State Department to obtain asylum for conductor Maxim Shostakovich, last night Rostropovich climaxed a recital at Lisner Auditorium by playing a cello sonata composed for him by Dmitri Shostakovich, his friend and teacher and Maxim's father. He and Hayes shared the honors at a commemoration of Rostropovich's first performance in Washington 25 years ago when he was on tour from the Soviet Union, under Hayes' auspices. He repeated the program he had played then, as a 29-year-old cellist.
The performance was incandescent, and in a nostalgic intermission conversation Rostropovich explained why: "Today, I have very sentimental feelings. I play with an image in my mind -- the image of Dmitri and his family. We were friends; I was his student; we were neighbors in Moscow with a common wall between our apartment, and we were neighbors in our dachas. I could visit with him all the time. Now, with Maxim and [his son] Mitya coming to the United States, it is as if someone had returned to me a missing part of my body. I can never tell you I am happy people are leaving Russia, because I love my people. But the government and the system must take responsibility for this. They are making the people poorer every day -- poorer in culture and in literature. Some day, they will have to face a great responsibility before the nation."
The anniversary recital was the centerpiece of a three-part celebration held as a benefit for the American University, beginning with a black-tie dinner on campus and ending with a variety of after-concert parties. Guests were bused from the AU campus to the auditorium, which is part of the campus of George Washington University.
"This is the bus to Rockville, isn't it? Do you all have your fares?" a man in black tie and a red-lined cape asked the formally clad passengers in the first bus.The joker turned out to be AU president Berendzen, and he was in high good humor. "Now listen, folks," he said, " as we ride down on the bus, we're going to sing AU songs."
"One of our students asked me about the black tie," he had said earlier at the dinner, "and I asked him, had he not heard about the new dress code?"
After the concert at Lisner, he gave citations to Rostropovich and Hayes, citing them for their contributions to the cultural life of Washington. The city has become "in all respects the Athens of America," he said, "and nobody has contributed more to that than these two men here tonight."
Despite all the good will, there was some small tension in the evening, which Rostropovich eliminated with fine diplomatic skill. Some who attended the dinner at AU skipped the program at Lisner and went instead to the Kennedy Center, where Howard Mitchell, a fellow cellist and a predecessor of Rostropovich as conductor of the National Symphony, was conducting the orchestra. "I'm going to Howard's concert," said Kay Shouse, founder of the Wolf Trap Foundation, as she left the AU campus, and some other prominent supporters of the orchestra did the same. Austin Kiplinger, a member of the NSO board and former president of the orchestra, went to Lisner. He said he had turned in his symphony tickets for last night and would go tonight instead.
At Lisner, Rostropovich explained privately that the conflict had not been planned. "I have a great love for Howard Mitchell," he said. "He is my friend; I have played concertos with him, and he dedicated 20 years of his life to the National Symphony Orchestra, which is my love and my joy. He was not scheduled to conduct tonight, but he had to change the date because of illness. It was impossible for me to change the date; this is the anniversary of my first performance here on April 14, 1956. So I sent Howard a letter saying, "Tonight, I keep our cello between my legs, and you take in hand our baton.'"
Later, when the audience in Lisner gave him a standing ovation, he interrupted, made a little speech about the orchestra and asked them to "also think about my friend Howard, who gave so much of his life to the National Symphony and is conducting tonight. Applaud not for me but for him, conducting tonight in the Kennedy Center."
In the performance, Rostropovich demonstrated again, in case it needed demonstration, that he is still the world's most exciting cellist as well as the music director of the National Symphony. It was a curious program, with two very substantial sonatas in the first half and a series of short encore pieces after the intermission. He explained this programming as an index of Washington's cultural life a quarter-century ago. "First I played two long sonatas, while it was impossible for the people to walk out of the hall; then, I made the second half like sugar."
Thus, the program opened with the Brahms Sonata in E minor, Opus 38, which is usually heard, today, in the second half of a recital program. It suffered slightly from being put in the warm-up position usually reserved for a lighter work. The playing was magnificent, because it was Rostropovich, but the first movement was not magnificent by Rostropovich standards.
The Shostakovich sonata, in this performance, was one of this year's musical high points. The shorter pieces in the second half were played to perfection -- Debussy's "Clair de Lune," for example, sounded as though it were being played for the first time and an arrangement for cello and piano were the only possible way to play it. Rostropovich concluded the program with one of his own compositions, "Humoresque," a brilliant motu perpetuo played at breadneck speed. It was the kind of music a virtuoso performer composes to show what he can do, and it is doubtful that any other cellist could do it with half the technique shown by its composer.