Classify This. (Dueling Cellos)

Way, way cool.  Stjepan Hauser and Luka Sulic playing “Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson for two cellos solo.

So what do you call this?  Classically-trained guys playing a rock song (or is Michael Jackson pop?).  Is this rock? Pop?  Classical?  “Alt classical”?  “Post-classical”?  What if it was performed on a concert with some more traditional classical music?  Whatever it is, I like it.



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4 responses to “Classify This. (Dueling Cellos)

  1. If it were part of an orchestra concert it would be considered part of its “Pop Series” I woul guess.

    I guess one of the issues is how easily we associate instruments with particlar styles or genres of music–or the kind of “training” that goes into the styles or genres that those particular instruments are associated with.

    I don’t know if you remember Eric Chesney–he was a composition major at DePauw while I was there (one class ahead of me)–but he had similar issues dealing ith the reception of his music amongst his peers as well as with Dr. Ott. Sure he did the typical composition excercises and pulled out a few pieces that had unmistakable roots in the “Classical Music” tradition, but the piece he really enjoyed writing were much more, um, for a lack of a better word–“Populist”. Meaning he used alot of popular idioms (and even instrumentation). He absolutely loved the sound of the Fender Rhodes keyboard he used in a number of his pieces, for example–and often scored for Saxophone, which is why we always had one (and for the life of me I cannot remember that student’s name) in that “Maximum Security Chamber” group I was part of till he graduated.

    I think once we get past the idea that particular instruments are married to particular traditions, that will go a long way towards acceptance. Basically those guys are doing “Pop music”–just happens to be on the cello. Not a whole lot different than what, say, Apocalyptica or Ben Sollee are doing with the cello, albeit in different Pop idoms.

    I remember when I first started touring with Ray Price, about whom I knew nothing other than what Joe told me, but playing in the strings, it really felt no different than backing up a smooth Jazz, lounge group–or much different than when I played a show with the Terre Haute Symphony backing up that old male vocal quartet, “The Fantastics” (I believe that was their name). This was just the Pop music of an older era and Ray Price made his career during the time of all these wonderful vocalists we sometimes refer to as “Crooners”–!!

    Interestingly, you could find that “Crooning” popular style (or something comparable), with the lush string or big band back-up in almost every culture during the 50s-60s: Vigen Derderian, then Googoosh in Iran; Lata Mangeshkar and other playback singers in the Bollywood filmi music industry; Porn Pirome (one of my mother’s favorites) in Thailand; Edith Piaf in France; Kyu Sakamoto in Japan; Oum Kalthoum in Egypt; Fairuz in Lebanon.

    The only thing that’s really changed is what’s considered “popular”–Metallica; Michael Jackson; Brittany Spears, etc. are the more current models for most of the younger folks.

    Well, that is until you step outside of the Western world, at least. As much as people talk about “Globalization”–people are still far more bound to regional centers of influence, I think. And sometimes “region” can mean ethnic backgrounds.

    I think two of the most interesting shows I’ve played with il Troubadore last year were when we were billed as openings for a couple of bands out of LA. One was the Fishtank Ensemble ( ) which is as multi-ethnic as they com, and are making a living touring around the US playing in musical styles and singing in languages that traditionally have little to do with Anglo-America. The other was with Jessica Fichot ( ), a Chinese French-American with a back-up band that’s just about as diverse. It’s so refreshing to not be the only group singing in multiple languages or playing musical styles well outside of the Western mainstream as we are.

    But I think those bands are doing the same thing as the cellists in the video you posted (as well as the cellists/cello ensembles I mentioned above)–taking from their own personal experiences and making something of it. And that’s what is most refreshing about all of it.

    I guess the sad thing is that so much of the new activity feels like the “next 5 minutes of fame” meaning that until we’re long dead, we won’t know what was really “the Future” of, say, classical music–but it sure is a fun time to be making music and I’m willing to ride this ride for now!!

  2. I guess since I posted links in my response it’s still being held in moderation but it’s interesting that I can still read it.

    There’s a fascinating book I’ve been re-reading, called “Music at the Margins” that is one of the few bigger studies of how Anglo-American pop music and its reception and marketing is changing the popular music landscape globally. The authors began the study to test what they are calling the “Cultural Imperialism Hypothesis”–namely, how much opular music around the world is facing increasing homogenization ue to the rise of the Western Pop music Industry and supposedly how pervasive its influence is on music making production around the world. The authors conclude, tentatively, that Western Pop music is nowhere near as pervasive as both the proponents of the “Cultural Imperialism Hypothesis” suppose, nor is it as universally accepted as the global norm by those advocates who believe it is the next wave in the evolution of music (and therefore the new model of the savior of music).

    I guess, this is where I tend to part ways with folks who believe that Western (or Anglo-American pop as the authors refer to it) Pop Music and the cultural, political, economic environment that has led to its spectacular (if sometimes equivocal success are ways by which musicians can find some autonomy and self-direction in their music making contra the field of Classical Music and its principle modes of producing music.

    Musicians will draw on their own individual backgrounds, and sometimes their models of music making have next to nothing to do with either (Western Pop or Western Classical) models of music production.

  3. Jon, thanks for your comments. I didn’t see the email about the first one, or I’d have approved it sooner. I don’t actually know what triggered the moderation think.

    I sure remember Eric; I didn’t know much about his own music, though. So that was fascinating to read, along with the rest of what you’ve posted. Which will take a little digesting!

  4. It’s likely the links I posted in the reply. Most blogging software will hold comments with links just because spam invariably always has links.

    Yeah, Eric always seemed a little bit of an outsider to the music school. Even the other composition majors seemed to have a not so high opinion of him (and I heard that from both Eric as well as the composition students at the time) which was sad.

    Hell, I still remember some students ribbing Neil Rabaut about the fact that he loved to listen to pop music. Neil just happened to write idiomatically like a “Classical composer” which probably had some to do with his general acceptance.

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