April 11, 1977 12:00 PM

It was Mstislav Rostropovich’s 50th birthday, and suddenly New York was awash with cellos. Pastry chefs whipped up miniature instruments to embellish his birthday cakes, and the ebullient Russian maestro led an orchestra composed of 40 cellos. Pride of the celebration was “Slava” Rostropovich’s own supercello—a million-dollar Stradivarius dated 1711. In a stirring feat of musicianship and concentration, he played it while also conducting Washington’s National Symphony in a Haydn concerto at Carnegie Hall. As an encore, he seized the baton and, bouncing joyfully on the podium, led a rousing Stars and Stripes Forever.

When he wasn’t working, Slava was bear-hugging and kissing the multitude of friends who dropped by from such diverse places as Moscow (like ballerina Maya Plisetskaya) and Monte Carlo (Princess Grace). At a postconcert gathering the Russian told of his favorite birthday present: a chance to have a newborn giraffe at the Washington zoo named after him. “So I went to zoo to visit new Slava, and it first time I ever see giraffe. Such fantastic neck!” exclaimed the portly cellist. “I am proud, I am jealous, I am fantastic happy.”

You May Like

EDIT POST