Festival Maribor (4): The Cello Updated, From Dowland to Nirvana

SloveniaSlovenia Festival Maribor (4), “Boundless Creativity”: Giovanni Sollima, Monika Leskovar, Igor Mitrovič, Gregor Marinko, Niko Sajko, Gorazd Strlič, Jernej Feguš, Maruša Bogataj (cellos), Festival Maribor String Orchestra, Marko Letonja (conductor). Maribor (Slovenia), Union Hall, 05.09.2011 (LV)

John Dowland: Lachrimae Antiquae (arr. for 9 cellos)
Domenico Gabrielli: Canon (arr. for 9 cellos)
Giovanni Sollima: Flagellatione (from Caravaggio) (2003)
Nirvana (arr. Sollima): Dumb, Polly
Giovanni Sollima: L.B. Files for cello and strings (2005)
Giovanni Sollima: Violoncelles, vibrez for 2 celli and strings (1993)
Alfredo Piatti: Serenata for 2 celli and strings (1890)
Giovanni Sollima: When We Were Trees for 2 celli and strings (2007)

In the most sensational concert of an often sensational Maribor Music Festival week, Giovanni Sollima issued a challenge to all who think the cello is for the faint of heart. The charismatic, 40-something cellist defied convention as things cello go, suggesting in the process that he may be a new paradigm for the mainstream cellist/composer superstar. Along the way, he enlisted the help of everyone from Vivaldi to the rock group Nirvana to show there’s plenty of gold left in them “thar cellistic hills,” mined as he does so endearingly with a rock ‘n roll attitude that mixes Mick Jagger’s loose lips with Edvard Munch’s screams and howls.

The program was called Boundless Creativity, but the title was the only thing that was not richly innovative and breathtakingly creative. Whether it was the outrageous melding and grafting onto his own composition of Boccherini’s wide open major keys and strings in L.B. Files, or his indecently gorgeous Violoncelles, vibrez (in which Monika Leskovar played even more indecently gorgeously than Sollima), or the revival of an obscure Serenata by Alfred Piatti (cellist extraordinaire, confidant of Mendelssohn and Joachim) – this was music that lifted the cello into the realms of the musical gods. It didn’t hurt that the cello people were partnered to breathtaking precision and intensity by the Festival Maribor strings and its miracle-working conductor, Marko Letonja.

Not surprisingly, one of the encores was a silly but highly diverting exercise in soul and 16th notes which Sollima and Leskovar played on a single cello. It was more difficult and astounding than it looks on YouTube, and vastly more entertaining. Sollima played the last encore himself, something beatitudinous to calm the masses.

Amidst the many roars of approval, the most excited member of the audience was a young Belgian student (history, not music), a fan of Sollima via his YouTube shenanigans, who had hitch-hiked her way from Brussels for this one concert. Her shining eyes and rapturous applause underlined the appeal of Sollima’s art to the young – as well as to the young at heart – and the classical music adventures of the open road.

Laurence Vittes