I've just watched the BBC film about the Rostropovitch, which gives a great sense of the passionate physicality of the person and his musically extraordinary playing: well worth watching. I remembered the one occasion I heard him live, in 1988, immediately after the Armenian earthquake that killed up to 45,000. He was from neighbouring Azerbaijan, and organised a concert literally overnight in central London in support of the relief efforts, and to commemorate the suffering. He played the Bach unaccompanied cello concertos and insisted that there should be no applause. It was an incredibly sombre, moving concert.
He also taught in Moscow before being driven into exile. Two English ex-students noted that he seldom talked about technique in his classes: he preferred to concentrate on the music itself. They told how there was a technically gifted student who took their breath away with the skill of his playing. But Rostropovitch wasn't impressed. After the student finished he said, 'I want you to imagine the most beautiful suitcase in the world... You can't imagine how beautiful it is. It's got incredible gold buckles on it … Now, take it! Take it! Put your hands out! Take it!' The student was bewildered but put out his hands and took the imaginary suitcase. 'Now, open it!' said Rostropovitch. '& what's inside of it? Nothing! That's you. You can do everything on the surface: it's all brilliant, but you haven't got any ideas inside you.' As the students said, it was a devastating analogy.
Rostropovitch also said that you don't play music for the audience: you play it for yourself. Sadly, the film is no longer available for viewing, but it's a great treasure if you ever get a chance to see it.
(A while back, Tangocommuter was taken to task for saying that musicality is more important than technique, and there were complaints about my objection to classes in stage tango being advertised as 'tango technique' classes. So I'd better be careful here and point out that the above stories have nothing whatsoever to do with tango. Obviously.)