Ennio Bolognini


Ennio Bolognini was the son of the Italian correspondent of Le Figaro of Paris, a close friend of conductor Arturo Toscanini. The father was also an ardent amateur cellist, and taught his son the instrument. Ennio made fast progress and eventually was enrolled in the St. Cecilia Conservatory in Buenos Aires, where he studied with José García, teacher of Pablo Casals.

Ennio debuted when he was 12 years old. He won first prize in an
Read more Ibero-American International Contest at the age of 15. First prize was a fine cello by Rovatti made in 1910. Eminent composers such as Saint-Saëns and Richard Strauss accompanied him in their works.

Meanwhile, Bolognini was a professional boxer who became welterweight champion of South America while continuing his musical career. He worked in Chile for two years, both as a cellist and conductor. In 1923 he traveled to the United States for the first time, having been hired to be a sparring partner for Luis Firpo, then preparing for his championship bout with Jack Dempsey. Even after giving up boxing, Bolognini remained an avid sportsman, competing in many and also taking up flying. He owned his own private airplane, and was a professional stunt flier.

He stayed in the United States, settling in Philadelphia where he played in a movie theater but soon became principal cellist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

He was a fast-living character, a very handsome man who loved good food and wine, and gambling. He was a superb linguist and had a fiery temper and other eccentricities. He brought his dog to all rehearsals of the Chicago Symphony.

Once the Russian composer Alexander Glazunov was guest conductor, and got a severe case of stage fright. After entering, rather than taking the podium he walked over to Bolognini and grasped his hands. Bolognini talked him into performing and with difficulty calmed him down. After the concert, the manager accused Bolognini of hogging the spotlight by holding on to Glazunov. Enraged, Bolognini resigned on the spot.

He went to work in a night club run by an émigré Russian, a Romanov who was related to the late Tsar. He also became a well-known conductor, specializing in founding and building orchestras in places that had never had one. He was the most popular conductor of the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra, a summertime pops orchestra and had as many as 60,000 attending each concert.

Once he was hired to play at the Ravinia Festival, the summer outdoor venue of the Chicago Symphony. At rehearsal he got into a fight with the conductor and was fired. In retaliation, he wrecked the concert by buzzing Ravinia in his airplane and landing it in the parking lot. It took 12 policemen to hold him down and arrest him.

He moved to Las Vegas in 1951 and played in the orchestra at one of the casinos. In 1963 he founded the Las Vegas Philharmonic Orchestra, which only survived five years.

Bolognini has not been widely remembered. But those who heard him play were in awe of his talent and marvelous tone. Chicago critic Claudia Cassidy said "No more beautiful tone is being drawn from the instrument today." Fellow cellists concur: Stephen Kates said he had "the purest sound I have ever heard on the cello from anyone." Emmanuel Feuermann said "For my money, the world's greatest cellist is not Casals, Piatigorsky, or myself, but Bolognini!" And Pablo Casals said he was "The greatest cello talent I ever heard in my life!" Read less

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