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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rostropovich Turns 80 With a Kremlin Party

APRostropovich conducting The Grand Symphonic Orchestra last September.
President Vladimir Putin threw a star-studded Kremlin reception on Tuesday evening to celebrate cellist Mstislav Rostropovich's 80th birthday.

Among the guests were Monaco's Prince Albert II and princesses from Spain, Greece, Jordan and Denmark, Interfax reported. Also in attendence were Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and a number of Russian ministers and governors.

Rostropovich was born in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, which was then a Soviet republic. He and his wife started a foundation that conducts charitable activities in Azerbaijan including vaccinating children.

Earlier Tuesday, Putin praised both Rostropovich's musical accomplishments and his human rights activism.

"In all your life and creative work you have many times shown the truth that art and morality together supplement each other and constitute a single goal. In all of the world you are known not only as a brilliant cellist and gifted conductor but as a confirmed defender of human rights and freedom of spirit and an uncompromising fighter for the ideals of democracy," Putin said in a statement.

The Moscow Conservatory held a birthday concert on Monday with artists including the violinist Maxim Vengerov and the Borodin Quartet.

Celebrations of the renowned cellist's birthday come amid concern over his health; he was hospitalized in February for illness that his aides did not specify, but news reports said he had been in the country's leading cancer hospital.

One of the giants of classical music, Rostropovich went into exile from the Soviet Union with his family in 1974 after housing dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn for four years. He and his wife Galina Vishnyevskaya eventually lost their Soviet citizenship.

The government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta on Tuesday published an article by Solzhenitsyn's wife Natalya that included what she said was the first publication of a letter her husband wrote in May 1973 when they moved out of Rostropovich's house.

"Once more I repeat to you and Galya my delight at your steadfastness, with which you endured all the oppression connected with me and did not allow me to feel. Once again I am grateful for the years of shelter with you, where I survived a time that was very stormy for me, but thanks to the exceptional circumstances I all the same wrote without interruption," the letter says in part.

Three years after his exile, Rostropovich became music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington.

He held that the position until 1994 and retains the title conductor laureate.

Rostropovich developed close relationships with three of the 20th century's leading composers -- Sergei Prokofiev, Benjamin Britten and Dmitri Shostakovich, his teacher. He commissioned dozens of works for cello from them and others.

His students included such greats as Jacqueline du Pre, Mischa Maisky, Natalia Gutman, David Geringas, Han-Na Chang and David Finckel.

"He's the most inspiring musician that I have ever known," said Finckel, the Emerson String Quartet's cellist and co-artistic director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. "Inspiring for audiences who were nonmusicians to sense that something wonderful was happening in music and to get them to return to it; inspiring for composers who heard such a compelling voice in his sound and his approach that they dreamed of having their music played by him; and inspiring for instrumentalists, especially cellists. ... He was never the kind of mentor to me or others that made you feel hopeless."