Mstislav Rostropovich was a Russian cellist, pianist, conductor, pedagogue and political figure whose international performances and public appearances symbolized the struggle of intellectuals against the rigid Soviet Communism. Rostropovich was born in Baku, Azerbaijan in 1927. At the age of four he started piano lessons with his mother and shortly afterwards began to study the cello with his father. He continued under his father's tuition at the Central Music School in Moscow and then went on to the Moscow Conservatoire, where in addition to his cello and piano studies he began to conduct. He made his public debut as a cellist in 1942 at the age of 15 and was immediately recognized as a potentially great artist. When the war ended his reputation soon spread outside the USSR, principally through his recordings, and when he began touring in the West it was soon apparent that in Rostropovich the world had a natural successor to the great Pablo Casals, who had reigned as the supreme cellist for more than half a century. He has given countless memorable performances and has inspired the world's leading composers to enlarge and enrich the standard cello repertoire with works specially composed for and dedicated to him. These include works by Britten, Bliss, Khachaturian, Lutoslawski, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Rostropovich was soloist in the premieres of Prokofiev's second Cello Concerto in 1952, Shostakovich's two Cello Concertos in 1959 and 1966, Britten's Cello Symphony in 1964 and Bliss's Cello Concerto in 1970. Many other works have been written for him and today his repertoire includes more than 50 concertos, ranging from the baroque, through the classical and romantic periods, to the avant-garde. As a cellist, Rostropovich is noted for his commanding technique and intense, visionary playing.