With the death of Mstislav Leopoldovich Rostropovich on 27 April, the world lost a personality the significance of which we have yet to fully appreciate.
Slava will be remembered as a cellist of exceptional musicality and super-human technique, whose playing captivated audiences the world over. He will be remembered as an inspirational teacher to so many of the world's leading cellists. And, let us not forget that he was, in addition, a pianist and conductor whose accomplishments rivalled the very best of his contemporaries. He also represents the last of a phenomenal generation of Soviet musicians who took the western world by storm from the 1950s onwards with their breath-taking technique and musicianship. Just as every violinist knows Oistrakh, and every pianist Richter and Gilels, so every cellist has watched in awe as Rostropovich makes light of technical impossibilities, offering the work at hand his sincere and total commitment.
Beyond the musical world Slava will be remembered as a selfless humanitarian, who offered refuge to the outcast Solzhenitsyn, played beneath the Berlin wall while it fell, and rushed to the side of the late Boris Yeltsin (with whom he now rests in Moscow's Novodevichy Cemetery) during Moscow's 1991 siege of the White House.
Throughout his life, Slava retained a hunger for new music, resulting in over 120 world premieres and many dedications. Yet for all the composers he worked with - including Dutilleux, Gubaidulina, Lutoslawski, Miaskovsky, Schnittke and many others - he remained faithful to his "three kings": Britten, Shostakovich and Prokofiev.
His friendship with Prokofiev began in January 1948 when, as a 21 year old, he performed the composer's Cello Concerto. Rostropovich therefore saw at close hand the full effect on Prokofiev of the February 1948 decree attacking "formalism" and its associated composers. In fact, the young cellist may have unwittingly provided a lifeline to the ageing composer, since the first genuinely new work after the shock of 1948 was the Cello Sonata, written with Rostropovich in mind. This was clearly an episode the cellist held very dear, since he listed the 1950 première of the work (with Richter at the piano) as a concert he valued above almost all others.
Their friendship across generations - captured so aptly in a photograph of the two sat around a piano at the composer's dacha - produced also the Cello Concertino and the Symphony Concerto (which had a lasting and creative effect on Shostakovich whose own cello concerti, both dedicated to Rostropovich, soon followed). However, this was not the end of Rostropovich's Prokofiev-inspired accomplishments: his conducting career was launched in 1961 with Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony; and perhaps most significant of all, he was the first conductor to present the original version of the much-meddled-with War and Peace.
Slava's homage to Prokofiev continued throughout his life. His concert programmes and festivals helped to resurrect some of the composer's forgotten works: indeed, during the 1991 London Prokofiev festival he premiered the extant music from the late, unfinished solo cello sonata. On a personal note, I have come to appreciate even more greatly my good fortune in having seen him last year in concert in Seattle, conducting the Prokofiev symphony that launched his career, the Fifth.
I have not even begun to discuss here the hundreds of hours of recordings the great musician has left us and which will allow our children to experience his genius more tangibly than we can perhaps the only other 20th-century cellist of his stature, Pablo Casals.
The legendary Slava will live on in the minds of those who witnessed his performances, and I am sure the experience of his renowned bear-hugs are indelibly etched on the minds and bodies of the lucky recipients. For all this, and much more, he will be long remembered.