For our first Haydn-Mozart concert of the year, the cello soloist is Kian Soltani, whose roots trace back to Persia. We inquired about his family, musical upbringing, and the pivotal influences that have shaped him.
Júlia Váradi: Born in Austria to a family of Iranian musicians, could you share more about your family? Specifically, when and for what reasons did they relocate from Iran to Vienna? Additionally, what musical instruments did they play and continue to play?
Kian Soltani: Certainly, both of my parents are musicians who pursued their music education in Iran. In 1974, when they were in their twenties, they were awarded a generous scholarship by the Shah, covering their studies, flight expenses, and even providing accommodation in Austria. My father specialized in the bassoon, while my mother played the harp. After some time, they made the decision to settle in Vienna. Eventually, they moved to Vorarlberg, near Bregenz, where I was born and raised. Following in their footsteps, I embraced the musical profession, a choice that brought them much joy. To this day, my father continues to actively engage in playing Persian music.
J. V.: At what point did you make the decision to pursue a musical path yourself? I understand that your cousin, whom you looked up to, played the cello. Did that serve as a catalyst for your interest?
K. S.: Being three years older, my cousin's cello playing was something I admired greatly. His skill and the way he played became a source of inspiration for me. Additionally, my mother's proficiency on the cello was something I deeply appreciated. With music consistently present in my life, my love for cello music grew to the extent that I chose to immerse myself in it.
J. V.: At what point and through what means did it become evident that you possessed exceptional musical talent? Did this realization occur in your early childhood, and when did you first start to believe in your musical abilities?
K. S.: I can't pinpoint the exact moment, but I recall being surrounded by musical talent in my upbringing. My parents, skilled musicians themselves, created a delightful atmosphere with their playing. Initially, my involvement was more casual and enjoyable. It wasn't until my teenage years that I began taking it more seriously. As I delved into international competitions, I realized my ability transcended local acclaim. The turning point came in 2013 when I triumphed in a competition in Finland. It was then that I truly started believing in my capabilities, gaining significant self-confidence that surpassed my previous perceptions of myself.
J. V.: As a musician with Persian roots living in Central Europe, how does this cultural background influence and broaden your spectrum of musical interests?
K. S.: Traditional Persian music has always been an integral part of my life, thanks to my parents. However, residing in Central Europe, classical music held the primary sway over my musical inclinations. Austrian composers, in particular, such as Mozart, Haydn, and Schubert, had a profound influence on me. Their compositions were omnipresent, performed by numerous exceptional musicians. While Persian music resonated solely within the confines of my home, forming a kind of intimate familial musical language, classical music served as my initial cultural foundation for understanding the world around me. Although I found other genres like rock and pop intriguing, classical music, given its close connection to the cello, emerged as the cultural language that felt most intimately linked to my musical journey. This connection was evident from the fact that the majority of cello pieces are part of the classical music repertoire.
J. V.: I've come to understand that you occasionally create your own musical compositions. Could you share the nature of the pieces you've written? Do they exhibit any influences from Persian or Arab music?
K. S.: Certainly, on occasion, I engage in composing my own music, which tends to be a fusion of various genres. In my teenage years, I crafted a Persian "fire-dance" and a cello solo, both influenced by Persian music. More recently, my compositions have been geared towards film, drawing inspiration from the diverse music I encounter. Additionally, I occasionally experiment with electronic tracks on my phone, exploring genres like funky music or pop primarily for recreational purposes. While I don't consider myself a serious composer inventing entirely new musical forms, I rather draw from what I hear around me.
J. V.: You've collaborated with Daniel Barenboim's West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Could you share insights into this intriguing ensemble of musicians? How did individuals from countries with strained political relationships, such as Israelis, Palestinians, and Arab musicians, interact with one another? Was this dynamic significant?
K. S.: Certainly, we engaged in discussions about our respective countries, sharing thoughts on the prevailing situations. These conversations were consistently enlightening and allowed us to gain deeper insights into each other's perspectives. Joining this orchestra was a transformative experience for me, as it prompted me to broaden my understanding of Israel and Palestine, shedding light on their struggles. It was crucial for all of us to approach these conversations with open hearts, fostering a beautiful exchange of ideas. While the political context did hold significance, there was never any conflict among the diverse musicians in the group.
J. V.: Having performed with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, what are your sentiments towards this collective of musicians?
K. S.: I had the incredible opportunity to join them on a tour, performing Schumann's cello concerto under the direction of Ivan Fischer. It was a truly delightful experience for me. I hold a deep appreciation for the orchestra, and I eagerly anticipate the prospect of playing with them again.
J. V.: How do you ready yourself for the Budapest concert, where you'll be the cello soloist performing the special Haydn Concerto in D major?
K. S.: The concerto poses a significant challenge. Fortunately, I've had the opportunity to perform it multiple times, gaining valuable experience with the piece. One of the wonderful aspects is the ability to craft your own cadences and ornaments. Each movement concludes with cadences that you can personalize, making the performance distinctly personal and spontaneous. I approach the concert with an open mind, intentionally leaving some elements unfinished, as I aim to complete them collaboratively with the orchestra during the performance.