'Bravos' greet Russian musicians at 1981 Mozart Festival concert

Posted by David Middlecamp on August 16, 2013 

Maxim Shostakovich directs the Mozart Festival Orchestra with famed cellist Mstislav Rostropovich at left during a special concert at Cal Poly in August 1981.

KEN CHEN — Telegram-Tribune

Two landmarks of Ronald Reagan's presidency were a strong stand against the Soviets and, in America, a strong stand against the air traffic controllers union.

Both the Soviet Union and the air traffic controller's union would be worse for the experience.

On Aug. 3, 1981, it was front-page news that Reagan had issued an ultimatum to striking air traffic controllers: Return to work in 48 hours or be fired.

That day, the other front-page news in the Telegram-Tribune was a concert at Cal Poly by three world-renowned classical musicians. They fled the Soviet Union to escape grinding repression.

The artists had come to Cal Poly to perform a benefit concert for the Mozart Festival (now called Festival Mozaic) at the invitation of Shandon rancher and Reagan confidante William P. Clark Jr.

The festival had been founded a decade earlier by Clifton Swanson.

The concert was so popular that an overflow crowd listened on the lawn and even more listened on public radio station KCBX.

Clark's faith, world travel and love of classical music would eventually lead him to build the sanctuary at Chapel Hill, a favorite venue for classical performances. Chapel Hill was also the scene of William P. Clark's memorial service this week.

The community eventually would decide to build a Performing Arts Center as consensus grew that the region needed more than the Cal Poly Theater.

Larry Bauman wrote the Page 1 story, Aug. 3, 1981:

'Bravos' greet 3 Russians

Three Russians took San Luis Obispo by storm Sunday night and captured its musical heart.

Their performances captivated a $100-a-seat audience that gave the artists standing ovations and brought them back for repeated bows amid shouts of "Bravo, Bravo."

Three musicians — Mstislav Rostropovich, Maxim Shostakovich and his son, Dmitri Shostakovich — treated a crowd of nearly 500 to a night of classical music during a benefit concert for the Mozart Festival at the Cal Poly Theater.

Outside the theater, 200 non-paying guests sat on the lawn and listened to the music that was piped outside. Perhaps thousands of others listened in their homes as the concert was broadcast live by non-commercial radio station KCBX FM-90.

It was the first time the three musicians played together since the Shostakoviches defected from Russia three months ago to join Rostropovich, their colleague who also is a Russian expatriate and director of the National Symphony in Washington.

"Musically, it was the most exciting evening that I've been involved in, ever." said Clifton Swanson, the Mozart Festival musical director and a performer in most of the pieces played Sunday night.

Maxim Shostakovich, 42, conducted the festival orchestra through four musical offerings, concluding with the Piano Concerto No. 2 written by his father, Dmitri Shostakovich, who died in Russia in 1975.

The piano concerto was written for Maxim and was played by him 22 years ago when he made his piano debut in Russia. Maxim's 20-year-old son made his American debut Sunday with the piece written by his grandfather and namesake.

The father and conductor praised the festival orchestra following the performance but Shostakovich was not satisfied with his son's piano playing.

"Today the orchestra played very well," Shostakovich said through interpreter Nadya Efremov. "But Dmitri was very nervous, and I think he can play better."

The audience was less critical of his son's playing, bringing him back to the stage for two encores. For both encores the 20-year-old played sort pieces written by his grandfather.

Rostropovich, the world's foremost cellist and one of the men who helped bring the Shostakoviches to the United States after their defection, also stirred the audience to thunderous applause after his solo performance during the Concerto in C Major of Violincello and Orchestra by Franz Joseph Haydn.

In the audience was Deputy Secretary of State William P. Clark of Shandon, the man who arranged for the three musicians to play at the benefit concert. An ardent music lover, Clark had helped Rostropovich arrange for the Shostakoviches' entrance to the United States.

Orchestra musicians who played under and alongside the three stars praised them not only for their artistry but for their personal warmth.

"All three guests were very warm and they all made jokes about their language problems," said Carol Rice, a festival musician from Morro Bay who is studying at Yale.

Swanson said the Mozart Festival might not again attract three world-class musicians of the same stature.

"I don't see the festival as setting its sights on bringing world-class musicians just for the sake of that," Swanson said.

"Musical integrity" of the festival is more important, he said. "If they're world-class musicians, all the better."

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