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Exclusive: Live from Baku, where Zubin Mehta wept as Galina lay dying

Special correspondent Anna Blundy (in the white mink beside Vengerov) reports for Slipped Disc from the Rostropovich Festival in his home town, Baku:

Last Saturday night in the Heydar Aliyev Palace, Baku, Azerbaijan, the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta, took to the stage under a vast poster of Mstislav Rostropovich as part of Baku’s VIth annual Rostropovich festival, this year marking the 85th anniversary of the cellist and conductor’s birth in the city. Olga Rostropovich, his daughter, was in the audience, bravely fulfilling her duties as President of the Rostropovich Fund, though her mother, the legendary soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, was known to be extremely ill in Moscow and fading fast.

Vishnevskaya, 86, had been in hospital in Germany but, on Saturday, December 8th, with hope for her recovery dimming, she was brought home to her dacha in Zhukovo, outside Moscow. This was the dacha where Solzhenistyn had sought shelter in the early 1970s, for which charitable act the Rostropovich family were eventually exiled from the Soviet Union only to return after its collapse. So turbulent was Vishnevskaya’s life as a soprano that she once said to me in interview at her Opera Centre in Moscow that her main advice to young singers; ‘If you can not sing, don’t.’

Baku fretted all week that Olga Rostropovich might not make it to for the festival. The week’s concerts, including a staggering performance by Maxim Vengerov, were tinged with sadness and a bleak anticipation. As Mehta swept up onto the rostrum for the encore on Saturday, he turned to the audience and said, in English: ‘I dedicate this piece to my dear friend, Galina Vishnevskaya.’ He was tearful as he raised the baton and everyone who knew how ill Vishnevskaya now was, wept. The encore was a fragment from Verdi’s Ballo in Maschera. Afterwards, when Mehta turned to us to bow, he was plainly crying.

The following evening, December 9th, before the grand finale, Olga Rostropovich took to the stage to talk about her late father’s love for his birthplace, Baku, and her ongoing relationship with Azerbaijan. Her pain at celebrating her father’s genius in Baku with close family friend Zubin Mehta while her mother was ill in Moscow was visible. When I asked her if it was hard to have to mourn her father, who died in 2007, in such a public way she said; ‘I don’t mourn. He is still alive in his music, and in our hearts. I am a cellist so I am in touch with him like that too. He was a believer and I am a believer. Of course, it’s sad sometimes, when I think of what he didn’t have time do and of what I maybe didn’t do or say. But I know he is up there, in a better place, making sure everything is in order for the rest of us. Waiting for us. He is very organized!’ Her eyes filled with tears. Two days later Galina Vishnevskaya joined her beloved husband in that better place.

The Fourth International Mstislav Rostropovich Festival will take place in Moscow on March 27- April 3, 2013

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  1. Lovely. Thank you.

  2. One great artist to another… Браво.

  3. Stephen Carpenter says:

    Thank you for this reportage. In my head thee past few days has been the last pages of the “War Requiem” that has so gripped me my whole life. I’ve pretty much worn out my recording that was made after the premiere. When one gets to those final pages with the whole force in play, floating above it all is this crystalline voice- Galina Vishnevskaya.- lifting the sum of the whole requiem with her- – . “In paradisum … Amen.”

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