Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
"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, Tuesday 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 celist.
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 as 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 fare?" a man in black tie and red-lined cape asked the formally clad passengers in the first bus. The joker turned out to be AU president Richard 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."
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.
At Lisner, Rostropovich explained privately that the conflict had not been planned. "I have a great love for Howard Mithell," 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.'"
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."