There were ghosts in the Corcoran Gallery last night, called up by Mstislav Rostropovich and his family: his wife, Galina Vishnevskaya, the incomparable soprano; Elena, his daughter, a pianist of poetry and strength; and her husband, violinist Pieter Daniel.
Rostropovich evoked the ghosts as he told the invited guests about Gabriel Glikman, whose paintings lined the walls. "My dear friends," Rostropovich began, "tonight I want to share with you a Russia I love, a Russia that now does not exist. Many of the people have suicided or are e'migre's. Or they died before their times because of difficulties in their lives."
The evening centered around Glikman's paintings, which, when they were first exhibited in Moscow in 1968, created such an intense public response that they were withdrawn in three days. Last night, the unprecedented event displayed Glikman's paintings of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Rostropovich, the poets Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetayeva and Alexander Blok, and music these poets inspired.
As Corcoran director Peter Marzio and an assistant moved paintings to easels facing the audience, Rostropovich told harrowing stories: Akhmatova's husband was executed, her son died in prison, she was exiled to Siberia and her great work is still unpublished. Tsvetayeva was starving, her husband and daughter were arrested and she hanged herself. "I am afraid of that portrait," Rostropovich said. "Look, already she knows that she will commit suicide."
The music that came out of this suffering was overwhelming in its emotive power. Vishnevskaya never sang more affectingly than in the late song cycle of Blok's poems Shostakovich dedicated to her. Scored for soprano, piano, violin and cello, it is a distillation of his greatest expressive writing.
Prokofiev was heard, too, as Rostropovich pointed out his "C major eyes," and Stravinsky, several portraits of whom hung there. It was a recreation of an era of greatness that is no more. At its closing, Glikman, now an e'migre' in Vienna, stood to receive the tribute of an audience deeply moved. The paintings will be on exhibit for a week.