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January 2014
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Yo-Yo Ma, Riccardo Muti: Have You Heard This Guy?

Riccardo Muti and Yo-Yo Ma, photo by Todd Rosenberg

Riccardo Muti and Yo-Yo Ma, photo by Todd Rosenberg

Antidotum Tarantulae XXI, Concerto for Two Cellos and Orchestra

It’s the cellists’ lament: composers favor the piano. Dvorak, Elgar and Tchaikovsky wrote great cello pieces, but they were pianists first, writing reams of piano music (same with Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms etc.). You’ll notice cellists are always trying new works; which sadly tend to be forgotten (Rostropovich had a good run with Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Britten, however). Wouldn’t it be nice if WFMT’s cello month concluded with a new, winning piece for cello? Maybe it will.

This weekend, Yo-Yo Ma and Riccardo Muti offer a brand new, double cello concerto by Giovanni Sollima. Yo-Yo Ma is creative consultant to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and brought Sollima to Maestro Muti’s attention. Sollima himself is a beautiful cello player, and has a history with Mr. Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble.

It’s possible Silk Road Ensemble rubbed off on Sollima; he uses a lot of sounds that aren’t native to a Southern Italian, though the Neapolitan maestro Muti did pick up on a bit of the pizzica, a local folk dance. This and other details about Sollima’s piece are interesting, but not at all required reading—the music speaks very well for itself. It is distinctly cinematic: at times it dances like Copland’s Rodeo, at others you feel like you’re at a north African oasis, or plunging into the depths of the sea to hear the song of the whale. Riccardo Muti describes the piece as “extremely cultivated, with roots going back to very old civilizations…to laments that come from the dessert…connecting the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic persons,” as well as sounds of “the south of Italy, and the Balkans.”

The soloists in this world premiere are composer Giovanni Sollima on first cello, and Yo-Yo Ma on second. The score employs exotic percussion instruments; some crazy effects on the cello, including clothespins on the strings, and bowing high on the fingerboard. There are so many ingredients to this stew, it could have easily gone afoul, but the concerto has an organic cohesiveness, giving one the distinct impression that it’s a heck of a lot of fun to play.

Giovanni Sollima’s Antidotum Tarantulae XXI, Concerto for Two Cellos and Orchestra premieres this week with Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.


  • Spencer Cortwright

    The concerto is thoroughly enjoyable. It does convey a wide range of experience, but it holds together well. I’ve never enjoyed a new piece more, in fact, it is as enjoyable as many of the warhorses!