Mstislav Rostropovich, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, will be honored by Columbia University for his advancement of American music. The university's Ditson Conductor's Award, given annually since 1945 to a conductor of an American orchestra since 1945, will be presented to Rostropovich in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Sept. 13, opening night of the NSO season. "The Russian-born conductor's passionate and masterful advocacy of composers such as Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Britten has been joined in recent years by an equally deep commitment to American music," said Michael I. Soverin, president of Columbia University. The conductor will be commended for his "vital role in the creation, performance and recording of new works," according to Soverin, and he will also be presented a check for $1,000 from the university's Alice M. Ditson Fund.

Previous winners of the award include Leonard Bernstein, Leopold Stokowski, Eugene Ormandy, Leonard Slatkin and, most recently, Gerard Schwarz. Previous NSO directors Howard Mitchell and Antal Dorati each received the award as well. Union Backer Pamela Richards is becoming something of a union poster child. Richards, who turned down a Japanese car on an Ohio lottery TV show last month because it wasn't union-made, was in Detroit last week to boost the morale of the leaders of the United Auto Workers in their contract negotiations with General Motors. She arrived with the heads of the Toledo local and got a standing ovation from all the other local presidents. Later that same day, she met with Chrysler executives, who gave Richards a new Plymouth. That brings to three the number of new cars she has received for taking a pro-union stance. New Kids Getting Old? The New Kids on the Block are having to cope with the downside of stardom. Band member Donnie Wahlberg got into a fight with a passenger over an airline seat on a flight from Salt Lake City to Atlanta last weekend. Wahlberg poked the passenger in the eye after the man took a seat that the singer had been in before moving around the cabin. The passenger was treated for injuries at an Atlanta hospital and declined to file charges, according to the police report of the incident.

And although their fan club receives more than 50,000 letters a week, the New Kids couldn't sell out two shows in L.A.'s 50,000-seat Dodger Stadium this month, causing one to be canceled. There are reportedly still seats available for the one remaining show, leading observers to believe that the ticket-buying public might want to see less of this ubiquitous band than previously thought.