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Legendary Russian Cellist Mstislav Rostropovich Buried in Moscow


Thousands of people said farewell to legendary cellist Mstislav Rostropovich during an Orthodox church funeral and burial. He was laid to rest just a few meters from where former President Boris Yeltsin was buried last week. Bill Gasperini has more for VOA from Moscow.

Mstislav Rostropovich was buried after an elaborate funeral in Moscow's Christ the Savior cathedral in the presence of many Russian politicians, artists and political figures.

During the service his widow, opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya, bent over the coffin to kiss the man known affectionately as "Slava" one last time.

Many dignitaries attended the funeral, including Queen Sofia of Spain as well as Ilham Aliyev, the president of the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan where Rostopovich was born in 1927.

Tens of thousands of people had filed past his open coffin all day Saturday in Moscow's famed Conservatory of Music, the place where he had studied and began playing in the 1940's.

Rostropovich was later buried alongside many other leading cultural and political figures at Novodevichy cemetery including Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin, who was laid to rest there on Wednesday.

The cemetery also contains the graves of famed Russian composers Dmitry Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev, who were musical mentors to the cellist.

Many mourners noted that the energetic Rostropovich will be remembered for much more than his musical talents.

He also became a symbol of resistance to the Soviet regime 40 years ago when he publicly defended writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who was being persecuted for his anti-government writing.

Rostropovich and his wife were later forced to leave Russia and were stripped of their Soviet citizenship in 1978.

This man says that the cellist was someone who understood about freedom, that he was a free man, although it took a long time for freedom to come to the country.

Rostropovich and his wife made a new life for themselves in the West. He was affiliated with many orchestras, including the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, where he was musical director.

And he never hesitated to take a stand for political change during key moments as the Soviet system began to unravel.

Rostropovich played an impromptu concert next to the Berlin Wall just as it was being torn down in November 1989.

He also rushed to Moscow to stand alongside Boris Yeltsin when he was resisting the hard-line Communist coup against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, an event that ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet system.

In recent years Rostropovich returned to Russia often to play and conduct. One month ago on his 80th birthday he received a medal from President Vladimir Putin at a reception in the Kremlin.

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