Kian Soltani will never forget his first encounter with Spider-Man. The Austrian-Iranian cellist was just ten when he saw the first of Sam Raimi’s epic movies about Peter Parker and his superhuman spider-like powers. He was held spellbound by its visuals and by its soundtrack, the experience sparking a lasting love affair with film. The enormous pleasure and inspiration Soltani takes from the cinema come together in his latest album for Deutsche Grammophon, a voyage through movie music like no other. Cello Unlimited, set for international release on 8 October 2021, offers a uniquely personal take on unforgettable themes and epic musical thrills from, among others, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lord of the Rings, The Bourne Identity and The Da Vinci Code.
“Everything on this album is made exclusively with the cello,” explains the cellist. Soltani recorded every note himself, from soaring solo melodies to infectious percussion sounds, mighty orchestral chords to whistling countermelodies. Having chosen his favourite film scores, he reimagined them for a supersized cello ensemble and played each part by ear. Multitrack recording sessions at Berlin’s Emil Berliner Studios, a giant leap from Soltani’s early experiments with his iPhone’s GarageBand app, enabled him to construct deep layers of sound and uncanny contrasts of tonal light and shade, always by recording without reference to notes on a page. The painstaking creative approach, a genuine labour of love, was emotional and intuitive, rooted in what the cellist described as his immediate “aural impression” of scores conceived for the big screen.
When lockdowns were imposed last year, Soltani’s live schedule was transformed overnight from packed to near empty. He returned to his archive of film score arrangements, essentially documents of ideas recorded in the moment, and it occurred to him they contained the makings of a recording project. “I realised it would take a lot of time,” he recalls. “But I now had a lot of time! So I thought, why not give it everything? Why not spend all the time I have pursuing a dream I’ve had for many, many years, to create an album made exclusively from my own arrangements of epic movie scores.”
Soltani’s dream took a year to realise. While Hans Zimmer and Howard Shore take credit for the lion’s share of tracks, Cello Unlimited also provides a platform for John Powell’s plaintive main theme from The Bourne Identity, the neo-baroque “Love and Death” from Perfume: The Story of a Murderer and one of Alfred Schnittke’s many movie masterworks, “Tango” from Elem Klimov’s Agony. “I grew up with these movies, apart from Schnittke’s ‘Tango’,” recollects Soltani. “They really made a big impression on me when I first watched them. The music just kind of grabbed me, and I listened to these scores so much growing up. So it’s a very personal choice of music that really means something to me and has accompanied me throughout my life. I’d love to collaborate with other performers to create new tracks for release every few months that explore the film music that’s exciting everyone today. The possibilities really are without limit.”
Every generation will have its own desert island hit-list of favourite formative movie soundtracks. Some, although vanishingly few today, grew up with the swashbuckling scores of Korngold and Alfred Newman; others came of age listening to Bernard Herrmann, John Williams or John Barry. Asked to name his favourite film, Kian Soltani opts for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, not least because of Howard Shore’s Oscar-winning music. “His scores play such a big role in the trilogy, not just to set the mood but in a way to lead you through the story. The music is almost like a character, or at least it supports every single character in a specific way, just like it does in a good opera.”
Cello Unlimited speaks of a cellist unlimited, owner of consummate skills as performer, arranger and composer. Soltani’s recording reveals the classical roots of some of the most evocative film scores of modern times while revelling in the cello’s technicolour tonal range. It includes his homage to the blockbuster movie score in the form of the album’s title-track, a virtuosic affirmation of the cello’s limitless potential and the majesty of film. In addition to “Cello Unlimited”, Soltani also composed “Intermezzo: A Scene from the Past”, used to introduce a nostalgic note in tune with memories of films first seen during childhood.
“The cello’s possibilities are infinite,” notes Kian Soltani. “Cello Unlimited is a celebration of the instrument as well as a celebration of epic film music, which can build bridges to connect people of all ages, but especially the young, with the classical world. Of course I’m a classical cellist, in a way, and I’ve done so many different things as a performer: chamber music, solo recital and concerto playing. And I’ve gathered some experience playing in orchestras. I tried to channel all of that into this album, where I had to be an orchestral cellist, a soloist and a chamber musician. Thanks to the recording process, I could be all of those things at once!”