Blog / Sollima: A Brief History

Sollima: A Brief History

Posted on 7 Jun 2016 by Leo Messias

Giovanni Sollima. Image by Francesco Ferla.

ACO Artistic Director Richard Tognetti met Giovanni Sollima at the Festival Maribor in Slovenia in 2011, and it was immediately clear the pair were kindred spirits. This peripatetic Italian cellist, conductor and composer was invited to lead the ACO on a national tour in 2014, and our musicians and audiences immediately fell in love with this spirited, dextrous soloist and the infectious exuberance and passion he brings to music. In 2016, Sollima returns to lead us on a wild joy-ride through 500 years of Italian music-making.

Sollima’s flair for showmanship can see him go walkabout on the stage as he plays, a leftover from days of practice “when he’d fancy a cup of coffee or had to answer the doorbell and didn’t want to stop playing”, or ripping out a Jimi Hendrix encore, or performing in an igloo theatre at an elevation of over 3,000 metres in the Italian Alps on a cello made of ice that a sculptor friend carved for him. Mesmerised by the cello’s “magical sound”, Sollima keeps it in a deep-freeze, and has plans to record Bach on it.

Sollima performs on an ice cello (in German and Italian)


Sollima has a voracious musical appetite and thrives on a wide-ranging and ever-changing diet: he composes for electric and acoustic instruments, and has written music for film directors and choreographers including Peter Greenaway, Wim Wenders and Karole Armitage. His influences take in jazz and rock, as well as ethnic traditions, drawing upon European and especially Mediterranean folk, Middle Eastern music, electronica, and more to enliven his art. He blends diverse genres in collaborations with artists ranging from DJ Scanner and American ‘punk poet laureate’ and artist Patti Smith to Claudio Abbado, Philip Glass and Yo-Yo Ma, working with the latter on his Silk Road Project. Ma has said of his energetic collaborator: “He makes me look like a pussycat!”

Giovanni Sollima and Patti Smith's collaboration Yet Can I Hear


In 2013, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra commissioned Sollima to write a double cello concerto. Playing alongside his colleague Yo Yo Ma, The Chicago Tribune said “Sollima may well go down in history as the only composer of consequence after Vivaldi to pen a double concerto”, and that the work was a “knockout showpiece”.

Yo Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott discuss Giovanni Sollima

Sollima is the instigator and prime mover behind the annual 100 Cellos Project which began at the Teatro Valle Occupato in Rome in 2011. Cellists from age five to 80, from all over the world and different disciplines descended on Rome – from rock cellists to Baroque cellists – to play 72 hours of music. 100 cellos met at the Teatro Regio in Turin 2014 to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, playing ‘Berlin 1989 – The Sound of Falling Walls’, as well as Bach and other German Baroque composers, an arrangement of music from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, readings, and showing a film of Rostropovich’s impromptu performance at the fall of The Wall. Sollima used Facebook to recruit cellists who were born on 9 November 1989 to take part.

Sollima performs Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Sollima says “I am happy not only to return to Australia, but also to be with such a fantastic ensemble with great musicians who are also beautiful people. I have carried memories of them in my heart since my wonderful experience in 2014. I often have the role of composer, conductor, and soloist. But my way of conducting is not formal; it hearkens back to an older approach, perhaps from the Baroque era before the modern concept of conductor emerged. The program that the ACO and I are playing is of Italian composers, and includes influences from Naples. I like to think of a program as a narrative, a tale, with connections, contrasts, stories, mysteries, secrets, love, and more. In the 18th century, the ‘cradle’ of the cello was Bologna, and later Naples which had an incredible number of musicians and cello virtuosi. Their music was like ‘singing stories’ – operatic or theatrical – although written for cello. They had temperament, and at the same time, elegance and subtle irony. With all this, I like to experiment, and I’m looking forward to coming back to Australia to ‘sing’, as ‘singing’ is what the cello has in its DNA." 

Rossini’s Une larme (A tear) was part of a series of works which he dubbed Péchés de Vieillesse (Sins of My Old Age) which conveys the sadness of the theme, but makes a brilliant showcase for the cellist. Berio’s Sequenzas are “compositional love-letters from Berio to the repertoires and possibilities for each instrument”, with many of them setting standards for performance prowess and stamina, and this program’s ‘collage’ enables the ACO’s own Satu Vänskä and Maxime Bibeau to take virtuosic flight. Vänskä also features in a precision-demanding piece by Paganini, and Bibeau in Scelsi’s incantatory double bass solo.


Sequenza Italiana concert playlist


Though Sicilian himself, Sollima’s love of Neapolitan style comes to the fore in fellow cellist and composer Leonardo Leo’s third Cello Concerto, a cutting-edge work of its time, and also in his own work, Fecit Neap 17… Very much of today, it also registers Neapolitan heritage with its title mirroring the common inscription found on manuscripts of the 18th century.


MONTEVERDI (arr. strings) Lamento della ninfa
BERIO Sequenzas for Violin and Double Bass
LEO Cello Concerto No.3 in D minor
PAGANINI Introduction and Variations on ‘Dal tuo stellate soglio’ from Rossini’s Moses in Egypt
ROSSINI (arr. Eliodoro Sollima) ‘Une larme’ Theme and Variations for Cello and Strings
SCELSI C’est bien la nuit from Nuits
GIOVANNI SOLLIMA Fecit Neap 17… for Cello, Strings and Continuo