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CSO Mixtape: Kiri Sollis

Kiri Sollis holding flute

Kiri Sollis, CSO Flute (Image: Martin Ollman)

Kiri Sollis is a Canberra-based performer and teacher, specialising in piccolo and contemporary chamber music. Kiri is flautist for The Griffyn Ensemble, one of Australia’s most innovative chamber groups. With Griffyn, Kiri has collaborated with leading musicians from around the world, including working in Scotland with the UK’s Red Note Ensemble and hosting musicians from Sweden, Poland, the UK and China in Canberra. Kiri has performed over 50 Australian premieres and over 15 world premieres as a chamber musician and soloist.

Kiri has extensive experience as an educator and ensemble mentor. She currently teaches 30 students through her private studio and at Radford College, where she also conducts a concert band.

Kiri has a Master of Music from the Australian National University and has been based in Canberra since 2005. More about Kiri

Selected listening notes

The musicians I most respect and enjoy listening to have skills that allow them to transcend their instrument and genre to articulate something of themselves in what they are playing.

ANTONIO VIVALDI Recorder Concerto in C major, RV 444

Performed either on recorder or piccolo, this work is core repertoire for piccolo players. I’ve performed it quite a few times, in auditions for flute or piccolo orchestral positions (it’s frequently the set piece) and also in my Masters graduation recital. In that recital, I was lucky to play with two Australian music icons, Geoffrey Lancaster and Barbara Jane Gilby. The three movements really showcase the instrument, from dazzling virtuosity to haunting beauty.

BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 7 in A major, RV 444 Second movement

This much-loved Beethoven movement is deeply profound. Listen as the simple opening melody develops and weaves through layers of counter-melodies and orchestral colours.

JS BACH Sonata No. 1 in G minor, BWV 1001
Chris Thile 
Mandolin

Mandolinist Chris Thile performs the four movements of this Bach sonata like an actor delivering a complete, one-person show. You can also visit him on YouTube to see him playing Bach from his couch.

STUART DUNCAN, EDGAR MEYER & CHRIS THILE Attaboy (The Goat Rodeo Sessions)

Another from Chris Thile, here collaborating with a number of outstanding musicians all enjoying themselves in folky freedom.

THE KLEZMATICS Dybbuk Suite

This multi-sectional work depicts the story of a bride possessed by a dybbuk. I love this music for its freedom and wholehearted expressiveness – listen for funky bass clarinet lines, raucous instrumental solos and simple melodies with intricate decoration.

Performing this suite with The Griffyn Ensemble was one of my early leaps into improvising – I remember being told there was a flute solo coming up: “Now go out the front and just play like a possessed bride!” This was a big challenge for a classical musician at that point used to reading every note!

HEITOR VILLA-LOBOS Assobio a Jato (The Jet Whistle)

This is flute chamber music with guts! Too often, people think of the flute as only ever light and beautiful. While it can have these qualities, The Jet Whistle lets us get stuck into the physically tough and raw aspects of music too. Wait for the heavy cello groove in the third movement and the ‘jet whistle’ flute sound effect at the end.

ROBERT MUCZYNSKI Flute Sonata, op. 14

American mid-twentieth century composer Robert Muczynski wrote a lot of great chamber music for winds, including this flute sonata. There’s tons of character: a sneaky opening; the bubbling, rapid second movement; a mysterious and weird third movement; and the punchy, exciting and virtuosic finish.

PROKOFIEV Symphony No. 1 in D, op. 25 Classical Symphony

Listen for the fiendishly difficult flute parts in the fourth movement! A twentieth century Russian take on the lightness and clarity of the classical period.

Curator profile: Kiri Sollis

Briefly introduce yourself – tell us your name, your instrument, where you’re living and how you’re connected to the CSO.

Hello, I’m Kiri Sollis. I play the flute, although it’s no secret that I prefer the piccolo and will advocate strongly for this misunderstood and under-appreciated instrument!

I have lived in Belconnen for 12 years; I’m now in Flynn near Mt Rogers. I began playing with CSO during my time as a postgraduate student at the ANU School of Music in 2005-06. I’ve been playing regularly with the CSO for the last few years.

How did you come to be a musician?

I came to be a musician by consistently following the paths which appealed to me the most during my teens and early twenties – I figured those choices would lead me to somewhere I wanted to be. I’ve always felt being a musician is a special and privileged role. I’ve never wanted to leave that world behind, even after leaving a Bachelor of Music after an agonising semester of realising it wasn’t the right place for me.

After completing an arts degree in Sydney, I moved to Canberra to do my Masters in Flute Performance. I met my husband Michael and we started The Griffyn Ensemble – we’ve had many adventures in the world of chamber music since.

Teaching has always been a strong element of my music practice, allowing me to support myself and share my knowledge.

What’s the hardest part about being a musician?

Sometimes the hardest thing is when people assume you always love what you’re doing. Like any discipline, remaining motivated and balanced is sometimes a challenge.

Practising regularly while balancing teaching and performance commitments isn’t always easy. I’ve been lucky to be part of an amazing group in The Griffyn Ensemble and to share the load. What an audience sees in an independently presented chamber music series is really less than the tip of the iceberg of the effort involved!

How did you come across the repertoire in this mixtape?

The repertoire I’ve compiled is a mixture of music I’ve played in different contexts, music which has influenced my playing and things I just love. It really is difficult to curate such a list!

Describe your best gigs.

When I think about my ‘best gigs’, two very different events stand out in my memory.

The first was performing ‘Southern Sky’ with The Griffyn Ensemble and astronomer Fred Watson in the ruins of the Mt Stromlo observatory. This is music written by Estonian composer Urmas Sisask about the constellations and Aboriginal mythology of our skies. Sisask visited Canberra and the Mt Stromlo observatory before the fires in order to write the piece; it was incredibly poignant to give its Australian premiere in the ruins, with Fred Watson pointing out and explaining the constellations in the clear sky overhead to a packed audience snuggled under blankets. It was originally a piece for piano, orchestrated for our ensemble by Michael Sollis. I’ve never been so cold during a concert but it was worth it!

The second was more recent – playing in the orchestra for The Whitlams at Canberra Theatre. It was a lucky occasion to be a part of the pop music I loved most in my early twenties. Definitely a one-off special occasion!

Name something meaningful you’ve received as a gift – what made it special?

I once received a meaningful gift from a neighbour in Cook. When he learned I was a flute player, he rummaged around and came back with an old eight-keyed flute he had ended up with as part of a deal with an antiques trader many years earlier. He was not a musician but had held onto it until we met and he gave it to me.

It’s very different from the modern flute, similar to what would have been used in the mid 1800s and more recently in Irish music. I’ve been showing it to my students when we play music from that era ever since.

What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?

Practise more! It’ll help later! Also, learn the piano, at least for a bit…it would really help in my teaching now if I could manage to bash through the accompaniments!

Are you a cat person or a dog person?

Definitely a dog person. More on that to come!

What’s something you love doing that has nothing to do with music?

I love working with dogs. I’ve volunteered in several capacities for over 10 years now – as a dog walker at the RSPCA, a foster carer and as part of behavioural assessment teams at the pound through Canberra organisation ACT Rescue and Foster Inc.  I find it incredibly fulfilling to help a dog go from being alone and unclaimed at the pound, to a settling them in as a beloved member of a wonderful family.

Though working with dogs has nothing to do with music, it is related in many ways to how I teach – training specific skills, building rapport, mentoring people in communication skills. I’ve acted as a dog agent for quite a few Canberra musicians over the years!

Name a musician you admire (and tell us why).

The musicians I most respect and enjoy listening to have skills that allow them to transcend their instrument and genre to articulate something of themselves in what they are playing. I love listening to mandolinist Chris Thile – featured in my mixtape – play Bach, as well as his performances in more folky groups. Thile has collaborated with other amazing musicians who also cross genres and use their instrument to truly express themselves, like cellist Yoyo Ma. If you search for him on Spotify and listen at random you get a great blend of many different things – all played really, really well.

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