The man who brought Slava to Washington DC

The man who brought Slava to Washington DC


norman lebrecht

February 26, 2018

Washington lawyer Leonard Silverstein died earlier this month at the age of 96.

He was a board member of the National Symphony Orchestra when Mstislav Rostropovich was exiled from the Soviet Union.

In this interview filmed four years ago, Leonard tells the cellist Steven Honigberg how he broke the bank to bring Slava to the capital.

Secret history at its best.

The salary – $200,000 – was a steal. And Slava put DC on the musical map for 17 years.


  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    I loved him but $200,000? Good grief.

  • Mark Henriksen says:

    Fascinating film interview. Thanks!

  • esfir ross says:

    Slava wasn’t exile-he and Galina left on their own volition and return later to Russia.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      They were allowed to leave and their citizenship was cancelled the following day. I was there when it happened. That made them exiles.

      • La Verita says:

        Actually the Rostropovich family left the Soviet Union in 1974, and their Soviet citizenship was revoked in 1978.

        • norman lebrecht says:

          Actually? I was there in 1974 when he was notified that his passport was invalid and he could not go home. It was at a press conference in Paris.

          • La Verita says:

            Soviet Revokes Citizenship of Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya
            By DAVID S. SHRUBMARCH 16, 1978

            March 16, 1978, Page 10
            The New York Times Archives

            MOSCOW, March 15‐Mstislav Rostropovich, the Soviet expatriate cellist and conductor, has been deprived of his citizenship for “unpatriotic activity,” the Government newspaper Izvestia said today.

            Mr. Rostropovich, 50 years old, has divided his time between Western Europe and the United States since he left the Soviet Union in May 1974. Last October he became music director and conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington.

            His Soviet citizenship was canceled in a decree signed by Leonid I. Brezhnev in his capacity of chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, or chief of state. The decree also revoked the citizenship of his wife, Galina Vishnevskaya, 51. a former Bolshoi Opera soprano.

            When they left the Soviet Union four years ago, it was ostensibly for a twoyear term of concerts abroad. But their friends doubted that they would return, and some time ago Mr. Rostropovich himself declared his intention to stay abroad until full artistic freedom was achieved in the Soviet Union.

            The real import of the Soviet Government’s move may lie less in its effect on the musician’s life than as an indicator of a hardening mood toward the outside world and domestic criticism.

            Soviet‐American relations are strained in a number of fields, including human rights, arms negotiations, the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, and some Western diplomats see signs of growing friction on a host of issues. Such tension is usually reflected in official attitudes toward Soviet dissent, which has ideological and moral connections with the West.

            Five days ago, a similar Soviet decree revoked the citizenship of a prominent dissident, Pyotr G. Grigorenko, a former Soviet.general. Mr. Grigorenko, who went to New York to visit a son, Andrei. and to receive medical treatment, had hoped to return to the Soviet Union, and protested the Government’s action in a news conference on Monday.

            The decree made public today accused the Rostropoviches of having “engaged’ in unpatriotic activity and defiled Soviet social reality and the title of citizen of the U.S.S.R.’

            Mr. Rostropovich is a friend of Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, the expatriate writer, and Izvestia accused the musician and his wife of having played benefit concerts for “anti‐Soviet centers and other organizations abroad that are enemies of the Soviet Union.”

            Branding Mr. Rostropovich and Miss Vishnevskaya “ideological renegades,” the newspaper said they had “systematically taken actions bringing harm to the prestige of the U.S.S.R.”

            The cellist’s friendship with Mr. Solzhenitsyn—he defended ‘the writer publicly and gave him the use of a’ country home—led to a three‐year ban on’ concerts abroad, and curtailed appearances in Moscow. Mr. Rostropovich waS allowed to leave the Soviet Union two or three times between 1971 and his final departure in 1974, on visits to Austria, France and Britain.

            He was an immensely popular performer in the Soviet Union. Just before he left, he conducted a concert at the Moscow Conservatory, receiving a 17‐minute ovation at the end.

            A few months after his departure, he told a French reporter:

            “I will go back when I have a firm assurance that I can give all my art and talent to my people as I see fit. As artists. we must be able to play what we want, where and when we want, with whom we want.”

  • Jon H says:

    When you look at Dorati’s other engagements, 7 years was actually quite long for him – but admin relations aside, the orchestra Rostropovich got was much better as a result of Dorati. And I know people in DC who were embarrassed by the quality of the orchestra.
    And I may not love everything Slatkin programmed, but after 2008 there were some world class guest conductors that indicated there was nothing to be embarrassed about (anymore). And IMHO nowadays when a world class guest conductor appears, the differences between NSO and “the big five” don’t really matter.

    • Steven Honigberg says:

      I agree with you. If the conductor commands respect, is authoritarian enough and elicits passionate playing from the players, any of the top 10 orchestras in the US will sound as fine as the supposed no. 1 – the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The conductor has the key that can open the doors to the heavens.