Caution, Virtuoso at Work: Cellist Kian Soltani, NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

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This week felt like that scene in “2000 Maniacs” where they roll people down a big hill in barrels lined with spikes, except it went on for years. But here, now, in this moment, we have some truly beautiful playing by cello maestro Kian Soltani, accompanied by Christopher Schmitt on piano.

Watch Kian Soltani play “Popper: Hungarian Rhapsody”, “Schubert (arr. Soltani): ‘Nacht und Träume’” and “Soltani: Persian Fire Dance” at the Tiny Desk.

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Aug. 16, 2019 | Tom Huizenga — It’s not every day someone walks into our NPR Music offices and unpacks an instrument made in 1680. And yet Kian Soltani, the 27-year-old cellist who plays with the authority and poetry of someone twice his age, isn’t exactly fazed by his rare Giovanni Grancino cello, which produces large, luminous tones. (He also plays a Stradivarius.)

And if you think the notion of a cello recital isn’t exactly sexy or thrilling, just take a look at Soltani; he radiates joy and ingenuity as he performs three pieces that offer virtuosity, sweet lyricism and fire.

The Hungarian Rhapsody, by the late 19th century cellist and composer David Popper, traces its inspiration to similarly titled pieces by Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms, but showcases a number of hot-dogging tricks for the cello, including stratospheric high notes, flamboyant slides and a specific high-velocity bouncing of the bow called sautillé. Soltani nails all of them with nonchalant elegance, backed with companionable accompaniment by pianist Christopher Schmitt.

To prove he can make his instrument truly sing, Soltani worked up his own arrangement of “Nacht und Träume” (Night and Dreams) by Franz Schubert, replacing the human voice with his cello’s warm, intimate vocalizing. And in the Persian Fire Dance, Soltani’s own composition, flavors from his Iranian roots – drones and spiky dance rhythms – commingle with percussive ornaments.

It all adds up to well-rounded, technically astute playing from a young cellist whose career is ascending in full flight.

SET LIST
Popper: Hungarian Rhapsody
Schubert (arr. Soltani): “Nacht und Träume”
Soltani: Persian Fire Dance

MUSICIANS
Kian Soltani: cello; Christopher Schmitt: piano

CREDITS
Producers: Tom Huizenga, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineers: Josh Rogosin, James Willetts; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Kimani Oletu; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Production Assistant: Adelaide Sandstrom; Photo: Amr Alfiky/NPR

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