Kian Soltani: Passionate, agile and masterful

Cello virtuoso Kian Soltani will be artist in residence at Residentie Orkest The Hague during the 2018-2019 season. Violinist Ronald Touw interviewed him about his Stradivarius, his heroes and his Persian roots.

When he performs, Kian Soltani likes to wear a loose-fitting shirt with an open collar and his sleeves rolled up. He also sports a leather bracelet on his right wrist. His loose clothing gives him a lot of freedom to play: he sometimes appears to dance with his cello! Kian’s performance is passionate, agile and masterful. He draws long musical lines with great ease, paying attention to the smallest details along the way. Technically difficult passages don’t seem to exist for him and he imbues even the most difficult notes with a musical purpose. Whispering tenderly or roaring gleefully on his cello, he can also wail desperately – always in the service of the piece he is performing.

For two years now, Kian has played on a Stradivarius cello from 1694, ‘The London’. What is it like playing on such a famous instrument? “Incredible. It has so many timbres and an enormous power. That is good in a concert hall. Some cellists find this Strad difficult to play, but I feel comfortable with it.” Kian had the cello on loan from the illustrious violin firm J. & A. Beare in London. Since he has had to return the cello again, Kian is looking for a more permanent instrument. “Once you have played on something as stunning as this Stradivarius, you want an instrument of the same calibre to carry on with. That might happen, hopefully.”

It’s like brushing your teeth
His masterful technique appears as natural as brushing your teeth. Surely that is only possible after practising scales for hours on end? “Yes, absolutely!” he says. “That is how I start every day. Naturally, I no longer have to practise the technique for many hours like I used to. Sometimes five minutes is enough. But it’s like brushing your teeth; you have to do it every day.”

Kian was only four when he got his first cello. “My family is of Persian descent and everyone played an instrument. A cousin of mine was a cellist and he became a kind of role model for me.” Did he have any other role models or heroes? “Yo-Yo Ma and Giovanni Sollima as well as my teacher, Ivan Monighetti, and Mstislav Rostropovich. Ivan studied with Rostropovich and often spoke about him.”

Twelve-year-old Kian didn’t know Monighetti until a friend of the family suggested that he play for him. Kian was promptly admitted to Monighetti’s class. What was it like to study with him? “I learned so much from him, not just how to play the cello. We went to concerts together and he let me read books, compose and sing for him. We still see each other and every now and then we play together.”

Kian was 19 when he made his debut at the Wiener Musikverein. In 2013, he won the prestigious International Paulo Cello Competition in Helsinki. Not much later, Kian auditioned for the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which is conducted by Daniel Barenboim, and was hired as the section leader of the cellos. “That was a valuable experience,” he says. “I learned how an orchestra works and what it’s like to play with a soloist.”

A special bond quickly grew between Kian and Daniel: “We also got to know each other outside of rehearsals. There’s a click between us, musically and personally. He let me play solo with the orchestra and we started playing chamber music together. He is an extremely amiable man – always respectful, very erudite. And very witty too!”

Kian regularly plays piano trios with Daniel and Daniel’s son, Michael. Chamber music is an important part of Kian’s concert life, often performed in varying line-ups. He has also formed a permanent partnership as a duo with pianist Aaron Pilsan: “We grew up in the same region in Austria and know each other from an early age. Six years ago, we started playing together and it worked out really well. We enjoy it!”

The two musicians recently made their debut CD ‘Home’, with music by Schumann, Schubert and the Persian composer Reza Vali. How was the recording process? “Aaron and I prepared ourselves properly. We had already made our own recordings during the rehearsals and used these to perfect our performances. As it was my first CD, it was quite exciting. Fortunately, we finished the recording well within schedule.” A CD recording of Kian performing Dvorák’s Cello Concerto is scheduled for October 2018, with Daniel Barenboim conducting Staatskapelle Berlin.

Persian roots
Although born in Austria, Kian has Persian parents. How does his Persian side express itself? “When I go about my everyday life, I usually can’t distinguish between what’s ‘Austrian’ and what’s ‘Persian’ about me. It has become a synthesis. But I do like to go to Iranian restaurants in the cities I visit because the cuisine is delicious. And the language is beautiful too.” Perhaps Kian’s Persian roots come out most in his music. He has composed a piece for solo cello, Persian Fire Dance. Is he planning to compose any more pieces? “I like to experiment on my cello and have written down some things. For now, the Persian Fire Dance is the only work I play on stage. But who knows, there may be more to come!”

Soltani plays Elgar's Cello Concerto

Friday 19 October,20:00
Zuiderstrandtheater, The Hague

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