Kian Soltani, one of classical music’s rising stars, has been earning raves for his impassioned performances. Earlier this year, DC Metro Theater Arts praised his “superlative and charismatic mastery of the cello” when he played with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center. His Carnegie Hall recital was met with a standing ovation.
He looks forward to his Ravinia and Chicago Symphony Orchestra debuts under conductor Itzhak Perlman when he performs Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra on Aug. 18. “A lot of my friends have attended [Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute], and they have told me about their great experiences,” he said. “Meeting Maestro Perlman will be a special honor. It will be another chance to meet one of my idols.”
He has already met and played with almost all of them. “That’s one big luxury we have in classical music,” he said with a laugh. “Unlike with rock music, the biggest stars are actually reachable.”
He cites among his role models Daniel Barenboim, with whom he performed as principal cellist in the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which consists of student musicians from Israel, Palestine, and other Eastern nations (the West-Eastern Divan, under Barenboim, performed last November at Symphony Center). The cellist joined the ensemble in 2014. That experience was “life-changing,” said Soltani, who is of Iranian descent and grew up in Austria. “I grew up in this bubble, Europe. I only heard about conflicts on the news or read about them in books. Entering this orchestra, I encountered people who had seen the real conflict, and it was interesting to see how it shaped them, how they managed to overcome adversity and become stronger. That inspired me a lot. The whole idea of this orchestra is we’re all equal in music. It’s important to live by that ideal and have this dream of how it could be.”
Yo-Yo Ma, the CSO’s former creative consultant, is another. “A great inspiration,” Soltani calls him. “I will never forget the first time I heard him perform live. He inspired me to explore outside classical music and not just stay in that box.”
While Ma and Barenboim are “incredibly different artists and personalities, the one thing that they share is that they are incredibly hard-working,” Soltani said. “They have a plan, and they are doers. It’s not just sheer talent; it’s the ambition they have and the willingness to act on what needs to be done. They are not just resting on their achievements.”
Neither is Soltani, whose own list of achievements is steadily growing. Born in Austria in 1992, he began playing the cello when he was 4 years old. An older cousin whom he calls a role model played the instrument.
When it is suggested that the cello doesn’t attract many groupies, Soltani laughed and said, “You’d be surprised.” He continued: “Cello is the ideal instrument — it can do it all — and there are many people who have made it quite popular: [Just look at] 2Cellos.”
Donald Liebenson is a Chicago-based entertainment writer. His work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Los Angeles Times and on RogerEbert.com. The first Ravinia concert he attended without his parents was Procol Harum in 1970.
Note: This is an excerpt from an article published in the Ravinia magazine. To read the full version, click here.