A distinctive musical voice in Giovanni Sollima makes his debut on Glossa both as a cellist and as a composer, in a partnership with Antonio Florio resulting in a disc of cello concertos which is no mere digression from I Turchini’s habitual exploration of the secular and sacred vocal music of the Neapolitan Baroque (Tenebrae, L’adoratione de’ Maggi and Il canto della sirena, all available on Glossa). Sollima, a native Sicilian, is a living embodiment of that strong serious/popular vein running through Southern Italian music-making and, primarily a cellist, he has elsewhere performed with strong musical minds as varied as DJ Scanner and Claudio Abbado, Yo-Yo Ma and Patti Smith or Philip Glass and Giuseppe Sinopoli. His intuitive awareness of the spirit of the Neapolitan Baroque makes him admirably placed to participate in this exploration of the importance of the cello in Naples in the 18th century – a topic seldom covered in the musical history books but typically incisively approached in the CD booklet essay by Dinko Fabris – and Sollima’s virtuosic talent comes to the fore in providing his own cadenzas for the concertos by Leonardo Leo, Nicola Fiorenza and Giuseppe de Majo. Such a talent is also reflected by a new cello concerto written by Sollima. Very much of today, it also registers the Neapolitan heritage – its title is “Fecit Neap. 17..” – that Antonio Florio and I Turchini have done so much to open up to modern minds.
In welcoming Giovanni Sollima to Glossa, the opportunity seemed ideal to find out from him what lies behind his fascinating musical thinking.
Q: As a performer, what made you choose the cello as your preferred instrument? What emotions or intentions does the voice of the cello allow you to express?
A: My father was pianist and composer, some of my ancestors were musicians, my sisters and my brother are musicians too, and the house where my mother lives is still full of scores, books and instruments (especially pianos). And when I was born my father used to play in a cello/piano duo with my first teacher Giovanni Perriera, so the cello was a very strong ‘presence’ for me from a very early age and – as my mother tells me – I spent hours listening to rehearsals, only crying and screaming when those rehearsals ended! The cello, both as an instrument (including its case...) that sounds and as an object irresistibly fascinating for me, attracted my attention immediately. Maybe it was an obsession too... I started to study quite late compared to the norm (I was ten) because it was not easy to find a small-scale instrument suitable for a child. It may seem rhetorical to say so, but the cello is a ‘voice’ – with the amount of colours that it possesses, the ‘temperature’ of the sound and its large range of extension. Important for me also is even the position the cello assumes with one’s own body – one covers about 80% of it. But also there are the polyphonic possibilities and potential unlimited uses. Everything fascinated me then. And still fascinates me now, in both expressive and emotional ways.
Q: Had you worked with Antonio Florio before this recording project? How would you describe the musical spirit of Florio and I Turchini?
A: I met Antonio a couple of years ago, and I knew, of course, about his extraordinary activity, knowledge and experience. He is a musician I have always loved because of the depth of his research and for his amazing discoveries. For years I had a strong interest in Baroque cello literature: I started with the Bologna school (Domenico Gabrielli, Pietro Degli Antonii, Giuseppe Maria Jacchini, Domenico Galli, etc), but I quickly also started looking for different sources from the Neapolitan area, which was extraordinarily rich and developed in technical and expressive aspects of the cello. When I met up with Antonio Florio we talked on several occasions about these and other issues and the idea to record this group of cello concertos came naturally. On my part there was a strong desire to make this recording – I would say that it was a dream! In terms of the musical spirit of Florio and I Turchini, my view is that it is a perfect balance between science and inspiration, knowledge and expression. This makes the ensemble very special and I felt this strongly during the recording sessions in Naples.
Q: As a composer, how important for you is the Neapolitan style (especially that from the Baroque)? Beyond the title of the work, how have you represented this in your cello concerto, “Fecit Neap. 17..”, as recorded on your new disc with Antonio Florio?
A: I am Sicilian, and amongst its other echoes my home town Palermo bears strong ‘traces’ of the Neapolitan Baroque. In Sicily I would say that it presents a sort of memory – even if it is a weak one, perhaps like ‘dust’, yet still sending out some sort of signal... There is the sense of the drama and the natural melodic vocation in the Neapolitan style, such as comes through in the extended – even sensual – breathing and rounding in the melodic thinking. The melodic lines of Leonardo Leo demonstrate this very effectively. There is, of course, the popular music which is very important, plus some special kind of light – or darkness – that you associate with the Neapolitan style, as well as, naturally, the concept of the ‘south’. I tried to go into all this, when I started writing “Fecit Neap. 17..”. It was a kind of full immersion for me but, having said that, I must confess that I wanted to analyze and study it really very little, much preferring the emotional and instinctive approach to the compositional process. You see, I don’t regard myself as a ‘real’ composer (in the traditional sense): I am a cellist and I work on the cello. My approach to composition is more like improvisation, and I proceed from block to block improvising, then I write it down in notation. And I prepared the cadenzas for the De Majo, Leo and Fiorenza concertos in something of a similar manner to the point that I have not even written down all the cadenzas and fermatas, which really are little improvisations that later I sketched out in notation. Such an approach to composition is usual for me.
Q: In what ways do you consider your new cello concerto to be reflecting a contemporary musical aesthetic?
A: I never really thought about this! I hope that I can answer the question. I am not so sure what the concept of ‘contemporary’ really means today and I like the idea of something that is evolving (even if it is apparently an involution), without having to move to a specific style or school or whatever. In my piece (and not only in this one) the past is present, and I feel the past as a magnetic centre that is sending out signals. Given that I think that the contemporary aesthetic is very varied, I would say – paradoxically – that that is a huge sign of health. However, the concept of a space-time relationship, or – more precisely – the concept of ‘circularity’ is not something so new. Here, I am thinking of John Cage or Morton Feldman, but also of the ‘experimental’ ideas in sound that you find in Vivaldi, of the visions of Monteverdi, of the Neapolitan vocal style, etc. All in all, I do not really know how properly to consider my cello concerto: I think that it is floating in a dimension that is not necessarily tied to a specific time. And, when writing it, I felt that I was with the cello as though in a small boat, travelling and exploring styles and ancient techniques of the instrument. To that end, I would say that the concerto is layered, a composition of stratification...
MARK WIGGINS© 2012 Glossa Music / Note 1 Music Photographs © Gian Maria Musarra