Two Croatian cellists post a YouTube video of themselves playing Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” It goes viral and racks up over 16 million views. They sign a record deal, tour with Elton John, and become a worldwide phenomenon. It’s not your everyday rock and roll success story, but it’s the true tale of the whirlwind rise of 2CELLOS.
Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser, who make up the duo, had both studied and played classical cello since childhood. When they posted their video in 2011, they wanted to increase the range of what cello music could do, Hauser tells On Tap.
“We felt our imagination and creativity was limited by playing only one kind of music,” he says. “We always liked all different kinds of music including rock, pop, and film music. Cello is such a universal instrument; it has so many possibilities and is capable of doing so many different things—different sounds and effects. We wanted to expand the possibilities of playing the cello and develop ways and techniques of playing it, and show the world how cool, diverse, and powerful this instrument can be. We had this big desire to attract a wider audience, and make young people interested in the instrument and great music in general.”
But why rock and roll? After all, Hauser and Sulic could’ve chosen many different genres to showcase the cello’s unique sound and dynamics. Hauser said that, in fact, they always had secret dreams of becoming rock stars.
“There was always this rock animal inside of us that wanted to explode,” he says, “and one side of us wanted to fill up big places, arenas, and stadiums. We wanted to experience this euphoria—crazy screaming fans, light show, adrenaline, wild rock atmosphere. We were so excited about this idea. We always played with a lot of passion, energy, and adrenaline, even the classical pieces, and were sometimes criticized for that, and now finally we can rock our souls out.”
2CELLOS had fans throughout the music industry, and one in particular gave them a huge career boost when they first started. After the “Smooth Criminal” video went viral in 2011, the duo received a surprise call from none other than rock legend Elton John, who wanted them to join him on tour. They were blown away by his support.
“The whole thing was incredible!” Hauser says. “I will never forget the day the principal from the Royal Academy [of Music in London] showed Elton the video and he said how much he loved it, and our playing too. And the same afternoon he invited us to join him on the tour. It was truly amazing.”
The duo signed with John’s management company, Rocket Music, inked a record deal with the Sony Masterworks label, and recorded and released their eponymous first album, “2CELLOS,” in 2011. It included “Smooth Criminal,” along with covers of U2, Nirvana, and Guns N’ Roses. “In2ition,” which followed in 2013, featured guest stars like rock guitarist Steve Vai (covering AC/DC), and classical pianist Lang Lang (on Coldplay’s “Clocks”).
The duo’s newest recording “Celloverse,” features their biggest YouTube sensation to date: a cover of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” which has garnered over 52 million views. “Celloverse” features another milestone for the duo: the release of their first original composition.
“We wanted a challenge,” Hauser says, “which is why we did an original composition. We were nervous how fans would respond but everyone has been so enthusiastic. We would love to do more originals in the future.”
That future looks bright for 2CELLOS, with plans and opportunities galore. Hauser said there are numerous artists they’d like to work with, including U2, Sting, and Eminem, among others. They are on a North American tour at the moment with many dates selling out. And they’ve done what they set out to do, Hauser says, to change the way the world thinks about the cello.
“Now we feel so blessed and so fulfilled,” he says, “because we are in a position to experience everything, both sides—rock and classical—and it is equally beautiful and magical! We can experience a spiritual intimate atmosphere playing Bach in church for example, but we can also play in front of thousands of screaming fans and experience a total madness. There are so many possibilities and we are so rich by the opportunities this instrument has offered to us. We really wanted to revolutionize cello, and I think we have achieved that.”
The 2CELLOS show is Sunday, February 21 at 8 p.m. Tickets are available atwww.ticketmaster.com. For more info about the band, check out www.2cellos.com. Follow them on Twitter (@2CELLOS), Facebook (@2cellos), and Instagram (@2cellosofficial.)
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Photo: Stephan Lupino