Mstislav Rostropovich, a legendary cellist as well as conductor and pianist, was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, and trained at the Moscow conservatoire. He gave his first public concert in 1940 and by 1951 had won numerous major competitions and prizes. In 1956 Mstislav Rostropovich began touring outside the USSR, giving concerts in London and New York and establishing an international reputation. Following the example of Soviet composers such as Shostakovich, Khachaturian and Kabalevsky, several Western composers, among them Britten and Bernstein, wrote works especially for him. The contemporary compositions dedicated to him now number more than 170. In 1961 he made his conducting debut, and his subsequent conducting career has included 17 seasons as Principal Conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra, Washington.
Rostropovich devoted much of his career to the music of the 20th century, conducting the world premieres of almost 60 orchestral works as well as a number of operatic works. In March 2002 he celebrated his 75th birthday conducting a major series with the London Symphony Orchestra.