Sunday, April 29, 2007

Rostropovich in Athens

As you know, the great Russian cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich, died several days ago. As this article notes, Rostropovich's virtuosity generated a nice side-effect: many new pieces were composed with Rostropovich in mind. That is, over the past several decades we've seen a huge number of new pieces composed for the cello. I, for one, love cello pieces.
...Ralph Kirshbaum, an American cellist living in London, recalled a car ride with Mr. Rostropovich two years ago. The Russian said he was working on a new Penderecki piece. How many premieres had Mr. Rostropovich given, Mr. Kirshbaum idly asked. “It is No. 224,” Mr. Rostropovich answered — mostly cello works, but also pieces for orchestra, chamber ensemble and voice and piano (he was a capable accompanist)....
As I am wont to do, as readers know by now, I have a little story to tell. Many years ago I was in Greece for over a month. I had been traveling in East and North Africa and Athens was my first stop back in Europe. My father happened to be at a conference in France. We hadn't seen each other in over a year and thus planned to get together in Athens. Before he arrived in Greece, and having been in Athens for a week, I looked for things we could do together in addition to visiting the standard tourist sites like the Parthenon. I found that Rostropovich would be performing at the 6th-century B.C. Theater of Dionysius (photo above), Greece's first stone theater, located on the south side of the Acropolis. The event sounded lovely - open air under the stars in the Athens summer night, listening to Rostropovich perform various pieces for cello in one of Greece's most famous theaters, original home of Sophocles, Aristophanes, Aeschylus, and Euripides. I bought two tickets.

My father and I had dinner and then walked to the Acropolis from the restaurant. We arrived outside of the theater - the entrance is to the left of the stage in the photo, just next to it. You then walk past the stage and find your place among the rows of thick limestone seats.

We entered the gradually filling theater. Suddenly, lights burst upon us - television lights, camera flashes, a rush of people. The theater's attention was focused on us! Us!

But no... we happened to be entering right in front of Melina Mercouri, the famous Greek actress who, at the time, was the Greek Minister of Culture. Her entourage flowed regally into the theater led by my father and me, taking their seats in the front row while my dad and I continued to climb the stone steps to our place. And Rostropovich was genius.

Bottom photo: Declan McCullagh

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