This evening, my local classical station is rebroadcasting a tribute to Mstislav Rostropovich (“Slava” — “glory” in the Russian language). The National Symphony Orchestra, which Slava led for seventeen years, played at Carnegie Hall (a first) last May.
I hurtled back to a moment at President Obama’s First Inaugural, when Yo-Yo Ma and friends played in the glassy cold. I was in the gym in front of their big fat big screen television, and so was Mr. P. — a man who has always lived at the edge of solvency, a bodybuilding competitor, a trainer, a stage hand, an auto crash victim who walks with a lurch. Watching Ma’s fingering on the cello, he drifted into a reminiscence of the days when he moved pianos and flats at the Kennedy Center, and so did a friend of his, who died untimely, I cannot now remember from what cause, but Mr. P’s memory is the one that matters.
“So there was a service, it was kind of informal? Not like a church funeral. And I guess it was fixed up with someone but I didn’t expect it, I don’t know, Rostropovich came in with his cello and played a piece for” [Bill? Jake? Edwin? I can’t remember the name, either]. “It was so beautiful. You just had to cry. So beautiful.”
He knew Shostakovich and Prokofiev, he played with the bow of an angel, and he played for the memory of a stagehand. Aristocracy consists of many things.