This evening I caught a performance by Mstslav Rostropovich ("Slava") with the Vancouver Symphony. Rostropovich is celebrating his 75th birthday with a big world tour. He is definitely one of the major living legends and it's a privilege to sit in a room and have him play music for you. I was reminded of nothing so much as going to a Stones concert a few years ago.

That evening was the 53rd birthday of Keith Richards ("Keef"). At both concerts, the crowd just overflowed with love as soon as the performers walked on stage, before they actually did any performing. And you have to say, it's a pretty cool thing to be Slava, or to be Mick and Keef, and generally have been so good for so long. At the Stones concert we even sang "Happy Birthday" to Keef and he smiled and said thank-you and seemed generally touched.

This is mostly about Slava's concert though - it was largely Russian musical chocolate: Borodin's Polovtsian Dances, Tchaikowsky's Romeo and Juliet and Rococo Variations for cello and orchestra. The exception, and other cello number, was the Saint-Saéns Cello Concerto #1.

Both cello numbers were more virtuoso showpieces than deep-dives into musical truth, but that's OK, Slava can play whatever he wants to and I'll buy a ticket any night. The Saint-Saéns in particular is kind of meandering and aimless and has soggy rythms, but it's got lots of juicy bits on the low strings and the famous ascending line (quite like the George Martin/John Lennon collobaration in A Day in the Life) from the cello's lowest note to its gasp-inducing top end, played solo and gleefully milked for dramatic effect by any cellist with the slightest bit of showman's instinct.

As a sidelight, the Borodin Dances are the canonical example of the sound that an orchestra make that no audio system in the world however expensive can come close to; the triangle floating over the massed violins, the huge air-shuddering thump of the bass drum beneath, the melody hurtling back and forth between horns and low strings and violins. Awfully pretty.

Anyhow, Slava's encore was a Sarabande from one of the Bach solo cello suits (I think the first but could be wrong). Played amazingly slow, love poured into every golden note; words cannot begin to describe how beautiful this was. I wept (and weep again now, writing this). On the way out, I wondered why we needed the orchestra. And also noted that Slava's persona and aura are pretty imposing, but the music he offered, on the night, was way bigger.


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January 26, 2003
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