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Rostropovich in 1989

Rostropovich in 1989

Sunday, 9 November 2014, marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. For more than twenty-eight years, the wall completely cut off East Berlin from West Berlin, and its collapse was accompanied by public events and celebrations that asserted music’s role as a symbol of unity and reconciliation. Some performances were impromptu.

Moved by television images of East and West Berliners reunited, the Soviet-born cellist Mstislav Rostropovich flew in on a private jet from his home in Paris. All regular flights to Berlin were booked solid. Soon after, he went to Checkpoint Charlie to welcome East Berliners – with music.

The world-famous musician borrowed a rickety old guard’s chair and parked himself in front of a graffiti-filled part of the wall. He began to play Bach cello Suites (BWV 1007-12) for admiring East Germans getting their first taste of freedom.

“I did it from my heart,” Rostropovich said at the time, underscored by the fact that he had been living in exile since 1974 and was stripped of his Soviet citizenship in 1978. Rostropovich later said that in that moment he managed to unite the two parts of his existence that had been separate: his life in Russia before 1974 and his life in the West afterwards.

Bachstock – WQXR