Cellist, conductor and tireless campaigner for freedom of speech and human rights, Rostropovich was a musician like no other, one who used his supreme talent and prominence for the most humane purposes, from squeezing money from the Soviet Union of Composers for a starving Prokofiev to celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall with an impromptu recital of a Bach cello suite. Some of the greatest new works for cello were written expressly for him, including concertos by Lutosławski, Dutilleux and his teacher and lifelong friend Shostakovich, and together with his wife, the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, he became for many years a fixture at the Aldeburgh Festival, where he gave frequent performances with Britten.
1934–37: Studies at the Gnessin Music School in Moscow.
1937–41: Music School in Sverdlovsk.
1940: Début performance at an orchestral concert, playing the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto.
1943–46: Studies at the Moscow Conservatoire.
1951: Awarded the State Stalin Prize, the highest distinction in the Soviet Union.
1956: Appointed Professor at the Moscow Conservatoire; débuts in the UK and the USA.
1959: Premières Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto, dedicated to him; one of some 320 world premières given by him.
1968: Conducting début with Eugene Onegin in Moscow.
1976: Becomes Director of the Aldeburgh Festival.
1978: After supporting Solzhenitsyn and advocating cultural freedom in the Soviet Union, he is eventually stripped of his Soviet citizenship (restored 1990).
1977–94: Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra, Washington.
1987: Appointed honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
1989: Plays a Bach cello suite at the fall of the Berlin Wall.
1990: Returns to Russia for the first time, touring with the National Symphony Orchestra, Washington.
1991: Founds the Vishnevskaya-Rostropovich Foundation with his wife to improve the state of children’s health care in Russia and other former Soviet republics.