This year marks the eightieth birthday of Mstislav Rostropovich – a musical legend as cellist, conductor and teacher, but also an outsize personality and a courageous human being. Born in Baku in 1927, Rostropovich was the solo cellist of the Moscow Philharmonic and laureate of the Soviet All-Union music competition at the age of twenty, a prodigy blessed with both phenomenal technique and a driving musical intensity. He became, in short order, an international star and a sponsor of new music for the cello, the interpreter par excellence of Shostakovich and Britten.
He could simply have revelled in his gift and enjoyed his privileges, keeping his head down in the politics of the Soviet Union – but he is not that sort of man. He befriended Solzhenitsyn, the conscience of the Gulag, during the period in the 1960s when the