2Cellos - classical musicians Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser - came to the public' attention with their vibrant, cellos-only cover version of Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" in 2011.
The video, a sort of musical face-off, clocked over three million YouTube views the first two weeks of its release, catapulting the duo (who met at a master class in Croatia while still in their teens) into the international arena.
A self-described "classical-pop/rock duo," they come by their music passion honestly. Hauser has received twenty-one first prizes in a variety of international cello competitions and has performed for Prince Charles twice; he was also the last student of master Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. Sulic is a former student of London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Music and performed at Wigmore Hall. Such devotion to classical music didn't erase their interest in other genres, however. As Sulic recently told the Sydney Morning Herald, "We love AC/DC as much as Bach, you know.'' His musical partner Stjepan Hauser chimed, noting that ''(b)oth (AC/DC and Bach) are simple and convincing in what they do.''
Such could be the case for 2Cellos themselves. Simple but convincing in their approach to mixing genres, 2Cellos have re-shaped the classical-meets-pop/rock world with a smart mix of savvy promotion and solid musical chops. A strong, activeonline presence, a carefully coiffed image, and carefully chosen mainstream tunes have all combined to make superstars out of the two formerly-broke music students. 2Cellos have sold out arenas in their native Croatia (a DVD of that is on the way) and, significantly, they've charted on the Billboard 200, the Billboard Classical Albums chart, and the Billboard Digital Songs Chart, where their cover of "Smooth Criminal" reached number ten.
2Cellos released their self-titled debut in summer 2011. The work features covers of well-known songs by big-name acts including Sting, Coldplay, Nirvana, and Muse; two songs from Irish supergroup U2 are included as well. Hauser told Limelight Magazine in 2011 that "one song from U2 might have the same emotional power as a Chopin Polonaise.”
Along with appearances on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and The Ellen DeGeneres Show that year, 2Cellos drew the attention of Elton John, who invited them to join him on his extensive summer tour. Following that, the pair appeared on the Michael Jackson tribute episode of TV show Glee, with the duo performing their famous version of "Smooth Criminal."
In2ition (Sony Masterworks), their second album, was released this past January. With veteran rock producer Bob Ezrin at the helm (known for his work with PInk Floyd, Alice Cooper, and Kiss), the album features thirteen tracks that showcase the range of sounds the cello is capable of, highlighting that capability within a pop/rock context. Perhaps reflecting the diversity of their interests and influences, In2ition includes guest appearances from artists across the music spectrum; superstar classical pianist Lang Lang, Italian pop singer Zucchero, and television star Naya Rivera (of Glee fame). Heavy metal shredder Steve Vai joins Sulic and Hauser for a driving version of AC/DC's "Highway To Hell" while mentor Elton John performs a thoughtful, folk-inflected version of his famous song "Candle In The Wind", with the cellos adding an extra resonance to the wistful emotional landscape of the song.
Currently on tour through Europe and the Far East, 2Cellos return to North America in early April, where, along with individual dates, they'll complete a long string of dates in Las Vegas with John through much of 2013.
Recently, the duo offered their thoughts on the nature of popular music, its connection to classical, and where the see their unique hybrid of sounds going in the future.
What inspired you to first post the "Smooth Criminal" cover to YouTube?
We are both fans of Michael Jackson’s music. “Smooth Criminal” was the perfect song to start with because of its energy and it’s recognizably strong riff.
Do you think your work is broadening the definition of classical music or pop music? Both?
We are happy that many people who didn’t listen to classical music before got inspired and started discovering this wonderful world. Also, hard core classical fans can start to appreciate pop and rock music through our arrangements, which have a classical dimension.
2Cellos have a simple approach to their art. "Our goal from the very start was to show all of the possibilities of the cello as an instrument. We also want to break the limit between different genres of music."
How do you choose which material to cover?
First, we have to love the song and the artist we are covering. We are also looking for great riffs, beautiful and unique melodies which we can re-create on the cello; (we want to) give the original something fresh and different.
Have you met any of the pop/rock artists whose work you have covered?
We’ve spent time with Elton John, our mentor and hero, and that’s been amazing. We’ve even gotten the chance to open for him on his world tour. We’ve also opened and played with Red Hot Chilli Peppers, which was the craziest night of our lives so far.
What advice did Elton John give you?
(He) inspired (through) his immense energy and dedication to music and his live shows. He’s also the most generous and supportive person you can meet and has influenced us a lot.
How has playing pop songs made you better classical musicians?
The main challenge in what we are doing is achieving the sound of the whole band with just two cellos -that’s made us discover and expand our technical abilities. By the discovering different genres of music and meeting musicians from other music worlds, we are able to broaden our musical horizons.
Asked which popular rock and pop songs they'd still like to record, 2Cellos offer a coy response. "We have a few artists we still want to cover, but we're keeping them a surprise for our fans! We also love film music and would love to write our original compositions."
What classical pieces would you like to perform?
Since there aren’t so many pieces for two cellos from classical repertoire, we like to take and arrange music from other instruments, like violin. Recently, we’ve performed Bach’s Double Violin Concerto on cellos and it sounded beautiful.
Where do you see 2Cellos going creatively in the next five years?
The possibilities are endless! There is so much wonderful music out there and the sky is the limit for us. We just hope that we will be as inspired and creative for as long as possible and everything else will come naturally.**