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Italian cellist and composer Giovanni Sollima (born in Palermo, Sicily, in 1962) is regarded by many as a post-minimalist, and indeed one hears in some of his compositions the rigorous and formalistic elements of other composers who built upon the foundations of Philip Glass and Steve Reich. However, Sollima brings warmth and certainly exuberance and passion to his music and playing — not to mention what might be seen as a flair for showmanship — entirely removed from the arguably mechanistic and academic side of minimalist-based music, drawing upon European and especially Mediterranean folk, Middle Eastern music, electronica, and more to enliven his art. He is no stranger to grand gestures, including swooping glissandos, rhythmic pizzicato accents, and aggressive, even abrasive bowing, yet Sollima can also bring an understated delicacy to his composing and playing, while also attentive to the rich harmonic possibilities of the contemporary string ensemble.
The results might be considered to be "classical crossover" — yet Sollima has displayed an avant-gardist streak absent from the most popular classical crossover and classical pop-style performers, although his videos and album art do suggest the cellist's awareness of how to market himself for appeal to a wider audience. Regardless, the reward for Sollima's adventurous qualities appears to be only cult status thus far (particularly in the United States), with albums released on both major (PolyGram, Sony BMG Italy) and independent labels sometimes difficult to find and even lapsing out of print — this despite collaborations with everyone from Yo-Yo Ma to Patti Smith and performances at venues ranging from Milan's Teatro alla Scala to New York's Knitting Factory, not to mention a 2007 concert in an igloo theater at an elevation over 11,000 feet in the Italian Alps, with Sollima playing a cello whose body was made from ice.
Sollima's classical music studies began in Palermo and took him to Germany and Austria, and his website lists solo, chamber, and orchestral works composed by the cellist beginning in the early '90s, although his first compositions date back to his teenage years in the 1970s. One of his first credits on record was as composer of "Violincelles, Vibrez!" (1993) for two cellos and string ensemble, the title piece of Mario Brunello's 1998 CD on the Agora label — the album featured cellists Brunello and Sollima accompanied by the Orchestra d'archi Italiana and found Sollima, as composer, in the esteemed company of Hindemith, Tchaikovsky, Rossini, Piazzolla, and Takemitsu.
Concurrent with his composing activities, Sollima emerged as a performer and ensemble leader in his own right, notably through Aquilarco, released in 1998 on the PolyGram imprint Point Music with Philip Glass, Kurt Munkacsi, and Rory Johnston serving as executive producers. A warmly accessible yet uncompromising foray into post-minimalism that effectively blended chamber music with elements of rock — including electric bass and guitar among the instrumentation — Aquilarco (whose title is based upon "aquilone" [Italian for "kite"] and "arco" [also in Italian, referring to a bow]) was produced after Sollima spent six months in New York City between 1997 and 1998, and was recorded in both Sicily and New York. In addition to the Sicilian musicians who played on the disc, the American musicians included members of the Bang on a Can All-Stars and Steve Reich ensembles, with interludes featuring Robert Wilson's voice (which was recorded at Grand Hotel et de Milan in Italy).
Sollima's classical output as both composer and performer continued on the Agora label with two releases in 2000, Spasimo and Viaggio in Italia (A Journey in Italy); the former included the 33-minute title composition, written in 1995 for solo cello and an amplified ensemble of cello, viola, violin, synthesizer, and percussion to celebrate the restoration of Palermo's Church of Santa Maria dello Spasimo, and the latter featured the titular extended suite, composed in the year of the album's release and performed by the cellist with the Lark Quartet and with texts by Michelangelo Buonarroti, Giordano Bruno, and Francesco Borromini. "Casanova's Sonata," part of the Viaggio in Italia suite and appearing on the album, was also scored by Sollima for two flutes, two oboes, bass guitar, sampler, and string orchestra and incorporated in choreographer Karole Armitage's ballet Casanova, staged at the Athens Festival that year. The cellist also premiered at Carnegie Hall in 2000, performing Viaggio in Italia with the Lark Quartet. His music also appeared in the soundtrack for Italian director Marco Tullio Giordana's I Cento Passi (One Hundred Steps), an award-winning Mafia-themed film released that year. (Sollima has subsequently contributed to the scores of films directed by a number of other internationally renowned directors, including Peter Greenaway and Wim Wenders.)
In 2001 "Violincelles, Vibrez!" again appeared on disc, this time on Tracing Astor, a Nonesuch release by Latvian violinist and conductor Gidon Kremer that once more placed Sollima the composer in the company of Piazzolla. The following year, Sollima's "Casanova," the version scored for the Armitage ballet in 2000, appeared on the album Expériences de Vol, a triple-disc French-Belgian collaborative set by the contemporary music groups Art Zoyd and Musiques Nouvelles.
In 2005 the aptly titled Works collection was released by Sony BMG in Italy; the CD highlighted various Sollima compositions commissioned for and performed by the cellist and his accompanists between 2000 and 2004, including "Zobeide" from Viaggio in Italia and four "Terra" pieces commissioned for the 2001 Venice Biennale and recorded that year at the Downbeat Studio in Palermo. The CD remains one of the best introductions to the scope of Sollima's art, with "La Spera Ottava" one of the most beautiful and dramatic performances of the Giovanni Sollima Band on record. In 2007 Norwegian video artist Lasse Gjertsen produced a two-part video entitled Daydream — featuring Works' leadoff track, "Terra Aria," along with Sollima's "Concerto Rotondo" — which garnered considerable attention (and a large number of worldwide YouTube views) for its striking effects-laden imagery, including a six-armed Sollima performing multiple parts on a single cello and a gliding nearly ground-level journey through morphing river and forest topography.
A new Italian Sony BMG release, We Were Trees, arrived in 2008; the CD is notable for its pairing of Sollima with Croatian cellist Monika Leskovar, who has concertized in duet with Sollima on a number of occasions; the appearances of Berlin string ensemble Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop and (on one track) American rock vocalist Patti Smith; and the inclusion of "Violincelles, Vibrez!," nearly a Sollima warhorse by now, among the selections performed. In yet another mark of Sollima's diversity and stylistic left-turns, 2008 also saw the release of Astrolabioanima, a duet recording by Sollima and soprano saxophonist Alessandro Gandola on the comparatively tiny British label Slam; the CD was recorded in 2006 at Gandola's home in Bellagio, Italy, and included a greater degree of improvising than typically heard on Sollima's more high-profile endeavors. In 2012 Sollima issued a recording in a more traditional classical vein, Neapolitan Cello Concertos on the Glossa label; the album featured the cellist accompanied by Naples' I Turchini ensemble, which specializes in Neapolitan music of the 17th and 18th century, conducted by ensemble founder Antonio Florio. Neapolitan Cello Concertos features compositions by Leonardo Leo, Nicola Fiorenza, and Giuseppe de Majo, along with a new piece ("Fecit Neap. 17") written by Sollima in a congruous style. In late 2012 the upcoming release of another Sollima CD was announced: Caravaggio, originally composed in 2003 for solo cello and live electronics.