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Cellist, Conductor Mstislav Rostropovich Dies at Age 80

Mstislav Rostropovich, a cellist and conductor who also made a name for himself as a human rights activist, died in Moscow on Friday at the age of 80. A music critic discusses his life and work.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Finally tonight, remembering a musical master, and to Jeffrey Brown.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Mstislav Rostropovich was widely considered one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. The cellist and composer was also part of one of the great political dramas of the century, as a champion of artistic freedom during the Cold War.

    Here to tell us about the man and his music is Ted Libbey, author of "The NPR Listeners' Encyclopedia of Classical Music," and a friend to Rostropovich. Mr. Libbey is now the director of media arts for the National Endowment for the Arts, which, for the record, provides some funding for the NewsHour's arts coverage.

    Welcome to you.

  • TED LIBBEY, Music Critic:

    Thank you.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Let's start with the music. What made him a great musician?

  • TED LIBBEY:

    Well, as a cellist, he possessed capabilities that no one had ever had in the same degree. He had a monumental technique, fingers that could do anything. He had a huge sound. He went from the softest pianissimo to the loudest forte, all under complete control.

    He could produce color with his instrument that was ravishing to the ear and really revelatory to people who were listening…

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Color, a technical term, it means…

  • TED LIBBEY:

    Yeah, color, meaning just the way the instrument could sound in his hands, everything from a whisper to a roar, and with so many variations in between, all of that, and he had the temperament of a great musician. He had intelligence. He had insight. He had an emotional connection to the music, which was probably the most important thing of all.