Russian cellist, pianist, and conductor. An outstanding cellist, he performed all over the world and finally left the Soviet Union in 1975. He was awarded the Lenin Prize in 1964 and appointed a Commandeur de la Légion d'honneur in 1987. In 1987 he also received an honorary KBE.
Rostropovich's first teachers were his pianist mother and his father, who was professor of the cello at the Gnesin Institute in Moscow and a former pupil of Casals. He later attended the Moscow Conservatory (1943), studying composition with Shostakovich and the cello with Kozolupov. In the late 1940s he won competitions in Moscow, Prague, and Budapest. After the improvement of East–West cultural relations in the 1950s, Rostropovich toured in Europe and the USA, making both his London and New York debuts in 1956. In 1957 he was appointed professor of the cello at the Moscow Conservatory.
In 1960 he became friendly with Benjamin Britten, who dedicated to him his Sonata for Cello and Piano (1961), Symphony for Cello and Orchestra (1963), and the three Suites for unaccompanied cello (1964; 1967; 1971). Rostropovich gave the first performances of all these works. Shostakovich, Khachaturian, Myaskovsky, and Prokofiev have also dedicated works to him. As a pianist, Rostropovich frequently accompanies his wife, the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya (1926– ), whom he married in 1955. He made his conducting debut in 1968 at the Bolshoi Theatre and since then has conducted in many cities, being particularly known as a conductor of opera. In 1970, in an open letter to the leading Soviet papers, he supported the proscribed Nobel Prize winner, Alexander Solzhenitsyn; this caused a curtailment of his own freedom and in 1975 he left the Soviet Union. Two years later he became the conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington. His Soviet citizenship was stripped from him in 1978 but restored in 1987.