Distinguished conductor and cellist to receive honorary degree

The distinguished cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich will receive an honorary degree from Bates College April 2 as part of the college’s annual Founder’s Day Convocation.

Rostropovich, who before coming to the United States was one of the best- known dissidents in the Soviet Union, will perform during the program, which begins at 12:30 p.m. in Alumni Gymnasium.

Bates President Donald W. Harward will speak during the convocation, which marks the 141st anniversary of Bates’ founding on April 5, 1855.

Rostropovich, widely considered the world’s greatest living cellist, was music director of the National Symphony in Washington, D.C., for 17 years starting in 1977. He now holds the title music director laureate.

Rostropovich’s fame as a cellist started at the age of 13 in 1940, when he played with an orchestra conducted by his father. He first performed in the United States in 1956 as part of a Soviet-American cultural exchange program.

He began his conducting career in 1961 and he led orchestras throughout the former USSR and Eastern Europe before moving to the United States in 1977. He is credited with moving the National Symphony into the front rank of symphony orchestras.

Among the composers who have written works for Rostropovich are Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Benjamin Britten and Leonard Bernstein. He has received the Albert Schweitzer Music Award and the Ernst von Siemens Foundation Music Prize, previously awarded only to Britten and Olivier Messaien.

His other honors include the Presidential Medal of Freedom (U.S.), the Order of the British Empire (United Kingdom) and the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit (Germany). He is only the second non-native to be named Commander of the Legion of Honor in France.

Declared persona non grata in the former Soviet Union for his defense of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Rostropovich has returned to Russia several times in recent years. He has helped raise funds for Armenian earthquake relief, for children’s health care in Russia and for Russian military veterans returning from the Baltic states.

In October 1995, he organized a gala concert in Moscow to benefit the rebuilding of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, a national memorial to the Russian victory over Napoleon. The church was torn down on Stalin’s orders in 1931.

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