Wednesday 9 May 2007


I sang under Rostropovitch a couple of times in the 1980's, most notably when he conducted Britten's War Requiem at the Royal Festival Hall. I was in the London Philharmonic Choir at the time and it was interesting how different conductors dealt with the amateur chorus. Some virtually ignored us, Rostropovitch told funny stories, especially notable ones were relating incidents in his early tours of the West during the height of the cold war. His choral rehearsals seemed to have a lot of talking in them but he enthused the choir and got a good performance out of them.

He had a very good ear. I remember one passage in the brass which simply sounded like a vague flourish. Rostropovich insisted on taking it apart, player by player and when re-assembled it was no longer vague, but a precise fanfare emerged; quite remarkable. Whether it endeared him to the brass players or not, I don't know.

The soprano at the performance was, of course, Vishnevskaya, then getting towards the end of her career. Before the first rehearsal she was sitting at the piano, amidst all the chaos of chorus and orchestra assembling, playing odd notes and doing vocalises to some remarkable Russian sounding vowels - nothing Italianate there!

For the performance, Rostropovich had a copy of Singer Sargent's Gassed. I'm not sure how many of the audience could really make out the picture, but it was a remarkable attempt to bring visual imagery to the work.

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