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The Cellist Archipelago
Mstislav Rostropovich

Bach's performing heir

Clive Gillinson is the executive and artistic director at Carnegie Hall. Before that, he held a similar position at the London Symphony Orchestra, which he resurrected from bankruptcy a couple of decades back when its executive editor left and Gillinson, then a cellist for the LSO, was asked to step in briefly to tide the position over to a new executive. He stayed on. Gillinson was also a close friend of Tippen Davidson’s, the late owner of the Daytona Beach News-Journal, where I work, and the man responsible for making the London Symphony Orchestra’s biennial series of performances in Daytona Beach, of all places, a reality. When Tippen’s memorial was held here a few weeks ago, Gillinson was there as one of the eulogists. And when the newspaper held its annual Medallion of Excellence ceremony two weeks ago, honoring the year’s top high school seniors (an event Tippen and his wife Josephine created a quarter century ago), Gillinson was there as the keynote speaker.

He told stories about the strange shapes that success can take in the midst of hardships. He told stories about the London Symphony Orchestra’s bankruptcy days, and how, way back in his earliest days as its director, he thought that only thinking big, very big, would get his orchestra out of trouble. When other orchestras were organizing something involving Mstislav Rostropovich, he made it his goal to snag the great cellist even though he had very little to offer him. Rostropovich loved Gillinson’s moxie, went for the offer, and became friends. Gillinson retold another favorite story of his, but rather than me butchering it, hear it for yourself as he told it on WNYC’s “Mad About Music” show last September:

Well, Slava Rostropovich is one of the most extraordinary people anybody could ever have the privilege of meeting. And when I was a cellist I never even dreamt I’d meet him, let alone be working with him. So, to have ended up in my life spending a lot of time and developing a lot of huge projects with him, particularly around the composers that were so central to his life – Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Benjamin Britten – and to have worked with a man who I think probably more than other living artist has had a greater effect on new music being written – he’s had over 100 pieces written for him in his life. It’s absolutely astonishing – over 100 commissions, most of them for the cello, but a lot of them also as a conductor. And it’s just been one of the privileges of my life to work with him, and he’s an extraordinary guy. Because not only is he, I personally think, probably the greatest string player who’s ever lived – some of those recordings of his are absolutely breathtaking and unbelievable, and you just will never hear anything more beautiful or extraordinary. And at the same time he’s got the most unbelievable sense of fun, and so, once for my birthday, my office in London, my administration did a surprise birthday party for me, and this gorilla came prancing in the middle of the birthday celebrations, and somebody handed it a cello to say,” Clive, here, to remind you of your past as a cellist.” The gorilla completely messed up the cello playing, and so I showed the gorilla how to play the cello. It played “Happy Birthday” unbelievably, and of course it was Rostropovich. So, I mean he, just in every way, he’s the most extraordinary man.

[You can hear Gillinson’s full interview and pieces he played here.]

Rostropovich died on April 27th. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “whom Mr. Rostropovich had sheltered from the Soviet authorities in the 1970s,” the Times wrote, “called the death a “bitter blow to our culture,” the Russian news agency ITAR-Tass reported. “Farewell, beloved friend,” he said.” Here are a few obituaries: From the Washington Post, the Times, the Daily Telegraph and Tim Page.

And he’s Rostropovich playing the first, sixth and seventh movements of J.S. Bach’s solo cello suite in G major, BWV 1007:

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