The ‘Prom of peace’ – Rostropovich and Dvorak, 1968

Paul Gambaccini’s Radio 4 show ‘For One Night Only‘ is quite a rare thing: a radio show about (as opposed to playing) music that manages to avoid being joyless, self-indulgent and too long. That might have something to do with the fact each episode is built around a specific historical event, in this case a live concert. The show is then nice and focused and grounded, and there’s much less of the tangent-wandering concept-wankery than you sometimes get with this subject matter.

At the very least, listeners find out about some music they didn’t know before. Better, it can provide context to music you already like, and make you like it a lot more. The episode I’m talking about is this one from 2008, which looks back at the BBC Prom of 21st August 1968, when (Soviet) Rostropovich and the (Soviet) USSR State Symphony Orchestra played (Czech) Antonin Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, amid calls for the concert to be cancelled and protests in London. That’s because it had also been the day that Russian tanks invaded Czechoslovakia.

It sounds like the plot of a film, and maybe it should be. The programme’s contributors describe a tearful Rostropovich playing the music in such a way as to make it ‘completely clear whose side he was on’. I would have loved to see him play at any time, but this is a whole new level. People shouting in the audience, protestors outside, and tanks in Czechoslovakia.

I’m pretty sure an mp3 of this episode of the show can still be downloaded from some places. The CD is available on BBC Legends, for example here, and now I’m going to buy it.

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5 thoughts on “The ‘Prom of peace’ – Rostropovich and Dvorak, 1968”

    1. I was lucky enough to be at this concert in 1968 (still have the programmes for 21 and 22/8/68!) & seated near Rostropovich. It was a remarkable experience both musically & emotionally. Slava finished with a melancholic encore of a Bach Sarabande (not sure which) with tears running down his face. One concert I shall never forget and felt privileged to be there, politics aside, the music spoke volumes about the humanity of the orchestra and Slava’s deep felt sorrow at his countries actions. Wonderfully ironic that the Dvorak Concerto was programmed for that night! The following concert on 22nd by USSR SSO was also very moving with The Isle of the Dead, Shostakovich Violin concert #2 (Oistrakh) and Tchaikovsky symphony # 6. Another emotionall programme. By coincidence the Prom season’s programmes all had red outer covers! Great post about The Prom(s) of Peace.

  1. Taken me awhile to find this page, but I was there too. Had queued for some time, but a long way back and opted to go up in the gallery to be sure I could get in. Didn’t see but could hear the demonstration outside and then the boos, jeers and whistles as the orchestra came on. A long way from the stage but Rostropovich and the Orchestra’s emotions could be felt all round the hall. Still get a tingle thinking about it. Went the following evening too.

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