How We Met: Mstislav Rostropovich and Clive Gillinson

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The Russian-born cellist Mstislav (Slava) Rostropovich, KBE, is 67. On 29 September, he plays and conducts at the London Symphony Orchestra's 90th birthday gala at the Barbican. He and his wife, the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, have two daughters, and homes in Paris and London.

Clive Gillinson, 48, joined the LSO's cello section in 1970; he has been its managing director for 10 years. He is a winner of the Garrett Award for outstanding achievement in encouraging business sponsorship of the arts. He and his wife, Penny, live in London with their three children.

CLIVE GILLINSON: At the end of 1984 I'd just taken over as managing director of the London Symphony Orchestra. We were in dire straits financially, but I'd heard that there was a possibility of doing Slava's 60th birthday series in 1987. My philosophy was that the LSO should go for it and worry about where we were going to find the money afterwards. It was a massive undertaking, with Slava playing virtually all the cello concertos.

As a cellist myself, I'd always thought of Slava as a kind of god. The birthday series was a huge success and laid the foundation of Slava's special relationship with the orchestra. On a personal level, it was the start of an extraordinary working relationship, as well as a deep friendship.

Although I started working on some of his ideas, I didn't meet Slava until 1985 in New York. I had various appointments, so he asked me to come over to Carnegie Hall after a concert that he was conducting. He thought 11.30pm - when all the hugging and kissing in the dressing-room was over - would be a good time for us to sit down and talk. By Slava's standards, my exhausting day was nothing. He travels so much, he's never in one place long enough to suffer from jet lag. At 1am we finished our discussion. Thinking he must be absolutely exhausted, I offered him a ride back to his hotel. Slava apologised, saying he couldn't accept because he still had three hours' practice to do.

Because he demands so much of himself, it's not difficult for the orchestra to want to do their best for him. He's a great communicator and very affectionate, so there's never a barrier between him and the musicians.

His work schedule is crazy but it doesn't seem to affect him - he exists on three hours' sleep a night. As Slava has his own way of working, half the time no one knows where he is. His diary is in a little book which he keeps with him, so each time we meet, I copy his schedule for the next few months. Word has got around, and now it's not unusual for people all over the world to ring me in desperation and say: 'Clive, where is he?'

Slava has a real gift for friendship - little things like remembering to bring a box of chocolates for my daughter Sarah. He also has a great sense of humour. When the office decided to throw a surprise birthday party for me, they realised he was going to be in London and asked if he'd be able to come, but he had to keep it all a secret. He was delighted. 'Of course, I'll come,' he told them. 'But I have an idea . . .'

I'd been sent out to some bogus meeting and came back to my office completely unaware of what was going on. I walked in to find all my family and colleagues playing with party poppers and generally letting their hair down. Suddenly, a gorilla walked in and my heart sank. 'Oh God]' I thought. 'Not a gorillagram]' The gorilla started kissing everyone and swinging from the door. Then it began to eat the birthday cake, went down on its knees and picked up a cello. He held it the wrong way, making awful, harsh sounds with the bow. He seemed to be asking me to show him how to play it properly. I turned the cello the right way round and demonstrated a few bow strokes. The gorilla picked up the bow and began playing 'Happy Birthday' incredibly beautifully. At that moment, I realised it could only be Slava under the gorilla outfit. I can't imagine another artist who would have done anything like that. It was one of the great moments of my life.

I count myself extremely privileged to have Slava as a friend. He's an incredible driving force who can exhaust people half his age. There's a joke that the pleasure on people's faces when they see him is only exceeded by the pleasure on their faces when he leaves.

MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVICH: My friendship with Clive started when I was planning my 60th birthday series for 1987. As soon as I saw him, I knew that he was somebody special. Somebody I could trust and talk to in the same musical language. My intuition guides me a lot in my life and I looked straight into his face and said to myself: 'Is this person able to commit a nasty deed or not?' I decided that this Clive Gillinson, with his attractive, open face and kind smile, could never do anything nasty. I have to admit that over the years, my intuition hasn't always been faultless. I've made mistakes, but with Clive, my first impression was absolutely correct.

For me, everything in life is to do with human contact. If you like the other person and feel attracted to their ideas, their commitment and their honesty, then you look forward to working with them. It's because of Clive that my relationship with the LSO has continued so happily for us all. I really love these musicians. It's not always so easy to build up a relationship with an orchestra from the very beginning - especially with my English - but Clive is a very sympathique human being.

Sometimes the relationship between an orchestra manager and a conductor is full of tension. The two of them aren't automatically in unison because unfortunately, an orchestra manager often has to make very unpleasant decisions. Since we've come to know each other so well, I've realised that it's his presence with the orchestra which makes such a difference to the quality of its performance. If musicians are happy, that happiness will be reflected in the music they play.

Over the years, we've become close friends, and I always look forward to seeing him. Each of us lights up the other's face with smiles. Sometimes it's in London, sometimes it's in Paris or another city. There's never enough time because both of us are always rushing. Our collaboration on the

festivals dedicated to three of my friends, Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Britten, was a very happy experience for me because Clive shared so many of my ideas.

All my life, I've loved practical jokes. When I was invited to Clive's birthday, I remembered a party in Moscow where the pianist Sviatoslav Richter and I dressed up as crocodiles. But even for Clive, to do a crocodile again was out of the question. I'd designed our costumes. We wore underwear which was painted green, green socks and green nails. I bought 150 metres of special rubber band from a military shop, which we wound around our bodies. The man in the shop thought I was a black marketeer. I agreed with Richter that we'd crawl around the room - two hours later, we were both in pain. Our body hairs were stuck with green paint and every muscle was aching. The next day it was agony for me to play the cello. So for Clive's birthday, I asked someone to organise a gorilla suit instead.

Even then, with the instrument in his hands, the one imbalance in our relationship remained. He's seen me play so many times, but after all these years, I've still never heard Clive play the cello.-

(Photograph omitted)