A master to the end

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A master to the end

Mstislav Rostropovich had a concert at the Seoul Arts Center in June 1996. To see the best cellist in the world perform, music fans filled the concert hall. The master, who was 69 years old at that time showed us perfection. When he appeared on the stage again for a curtain call, the audience felt deeply moved. The cello player turned toward the seats behind the stage and started playing an encore. That was for those who bought tickets for a low price and had to see his back during the entire show. The encore was a piece from Bach Cello Suites.
Just as the early 20th century had the great master Pablo Casals, the latter part of the last century had Rotropovich. Even though he was regarded as the best in his era, he was modest and humble. That he recorded the entire Bach Cello Suites when he was over 60 proves his modesty.
As Bach Cello Suites require thorough interpretation and masterly technique, the suites are the goal that any cello player wants to achieve. The suites are the beginning and the goal as well for cellists so they are called the Bible of the Cello.
Rostropovich might have been tempted to record the classical pieces at an earlier day to earn credit, like many cellists actually do, but he did not hurry. He kept on waiting until he could understand his playing himself.
Rostropovich was a man of conviction and courage.
He sheltered Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his country house for four years. For that reason, the musician was persecuted by the government and lived in exile for 16 years.
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, he played on the spot to celebrate the event. During the Soviet coup in 1991, when members of the former Soviet military surrounded the Russian government building, the cellist showed up on the spot, again. He wanted to support former President Boris Yeltsin of Russia, who stood on top of a tank to stop the coup attempt.
On Friday, four days after Yeltsin’s death, Rostropovich, 80, followed his old comrade’s passing.
People say life is short, but art is long. Rostropovich made major achievements both through his life and his art. He excelled in art, a way of expressing a sublime intellect. At the same time, he did not compromise with the mundane world and was very generous and thoughtful to people in need.
In an interview, he said that one day a person will meet a judge ― his own conscience, and that if a person does not know hardship, he cannot become truly happy. That explains how he could lead a life of integrity until his last moment.

*The writer is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Daily.

By Yeh Young-june [yyjune@joongang.co.kr]
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