Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Maestro Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya founded the Vishnevskaya-Rostropovich Foundation to improve the deplorable state of children’s health care in Russia and other countries of the fomer Soviet Union. The RVF conducts sustainable public health programs that focus on vaccination, elimination of intestinal parasites, and screening and prevention of vertically transmitted disease. These programs have benefited nearly 20 million children, adolescents, women of childbearing age and at-risk health care workers.
Galina Vishnevskaya was internationally recognized as one of the world’s great sopranos. She was born in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg in 1926, and first performed in the United States during the Moscow State Symphony’s 1960 American tour. The following season, she made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera. Since then she appeared throughout the US and abroad in concert, in opera, and in recital with her husband, Mstislav Rostropovich, as partner. After starting her career at the age of 17 at the Leningrad State Operetta Theater, Mme Vishnevskaya was a leading diva at the Bolshoi Theater. She sang the great soprano roles in all of the major opera houses of the world.
She was a Chevalier of France’s Legion of Honor and was awarded the title of People’s Artist of the USSR as well as the Order of Lenin, her country’s highest award of recognition as an artist. After leaving the opera stage, Mme Vishnevskaya turned her talents to other directions. She earned acclaim as the author of the bestseller, Galina: A Russian Story. The book was staged as an opera in 1996, with music by Marcel Landowski. She added stage director, film and stage actress to her performing credits. In addition to her work with RVF on behalf of children, Mme. Vishnevskaya headed an opera school in Moscow, which was named after her. Galina Vishnevskaya died on December 11, 2012 in Moscow.
Mstislav Rostropovich was recognized internationally as a consummate musician and an outspoken defender of human rights. Widely considered to be the world’s greatest cellist for much of his lifetime, he recorded virtually the entire repertoire and inspired many of this era’s finest composers to create works especially for him. He was Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra for 17 seasons and enjoyed special relationships as conductor with such widely varied orchestras as the London Symphony Orchestra, the New Japan Philharmonic in Tokyo, Japan, and the Vienna Philharmonic.
As pianist, Maestro Rostropovich often accompanied his wife, the acclaimed soprano, Galina Vishnevskaya, in recital, and together they toured the globe.Maestro Rostropovich held over 40 honorary degrees and 25 different nations lavished more than 90 major awards upon him, including Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Commander of the Legion of Honor of France, membership in the Academy of Arts of the French Institute, often called the “Forty Immortals,” the Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale, and, from the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Kennedy Center Honors of 1992.
Prior to leaving the USSR on an exit visa, he had received the Stalin Prize, had been named a People’s Artist of the USSR and was a recipient of the Lenin Prize, the nation’s highest honor. His tireless work as a defender of human rights included his courageous defense of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and his trip to Moscow in August 1991 – unheralded, visa-less, at great risk to his life and freedom – to join those in the Russian White House resisting the attempted coup. For his support of the democratic forces during the aborted coup he was presented with the State Prize of Russia. He received numerous awards for his efforts on behalf of human rights, among them the 1974 Annual Award of the International League of Human Rights.
In addition to being the co-founder and president of the Vishnevskaya-Rostropovich Foundation, Maestro worked tirelessly on behalf of children’s health. He served on the board of the Vaccine Fund (now part of the GAVI Alliance), acted as Special Representative of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and gave numerous concerts to raise money for charitable work on behalf of children in many countries of the world. Maestro Rostropovich died on April 27, 2007, in Moscow.