2Cellos Discuss Music, YouTube and U2

BUDAPEST—Last October I went to Budapest to interview Stjepan Hauser and Luka Šulić, the two musicians who make up 2Cellos, for an International New York Times story on classical crossover music. I had never been backstage before at a concert, so that was a thrill (not as glitzy and dazzling as one would think) and, since seeing them perform in Florence earlier in the autumn, I had become a fan of these two classical trained Croatian musicians. I found them funny, charming and totally committed to bringing classical music to a wider audience. I had to wait until my story came out before I could publish the excerpts from the rest of the interview.

 How did you first decide you wanted to be a cellist?

Stjepan Hauser: I heard it on the radio and I fell in love with the song, as soon as I heard it. It was love at the first sound. The song was “The Swan” by Camille Saint-Saëns. I was like four or five. The sound was so warm, so tender, so beautiful, closest to the human voice and I just knew it, it was the only instrument I wanted to play.

Luka Šulić: I started when I was five, my father is a cellist so it was sort of—he took me to a music school—but I was too young to remember. I was so young, I cannot really remember when I started. I was so young it was kind of like, you never remember when you start kicking a football. I grew up with it, my main priority in life, it’s my main thing.

SH: When I heard [the cello] I was so obsessed I tried to create a cello by myself, with cardboard. I could not wait to start playing the real instrument. Everyone in my family is musicians—my mother is a percussionist, my father played guitar as a hobby and my sister, was at the time, a violinist and my older brother played cello for some time, while my younger brother played trombone. Arts were always important in my home.

Does the cello seem to be a cool instrument these days?

SH: What we try to do with the instrument, we try to make a revolution, not only cello playing but also in music, in classical music as well.  Presenting it to a younger generation, in a different light, showing how cool it can be. Cello is so diverse, so many possibilities, you can play it like guitar. Like with guitar, you can just pluck but with cello you pluck it, you can play along the lines. It can be very rough or very gentle. The most diverse instrument and also the range of the — you can play low or very high.

LS: In bass you can only play low. With the cello you can even treat it as percussion, so many different possibilities–anything you want. We want to show how expandable are the possibilities of cello playing and we are always creative, we want to do our own arrangements, break the boundaries between different genres in music. We were always fantasizing how we can reach hundreds of people.

How would you characterize your audience?
SH: What is unique about what we do, the range of fans, the variety of different backgrounds—we attract classical people as much as rock people, pop people, or metal people and it is all combined, different ages. From seven to 77 and that is the beauty of our project—that we unite everyone in the same room.

2-cellos-800-x-533Tell me about your latest album “Celloverse.”

LS: We don’t think about album as a concept, albums have lost their power and meaning anyway. So we focus on individual singles and music videos. For every single, we do a video and put it on YouTube. YouTube is still the most important by far for us. We have a huge following online.

Does there feel like there is a new appreciation for classical music? Maybe helped in part by classical crossover music, which is partly what you do?

LS: So many children want to start playing cello. They pick up an instrument.

SH: In Croatia there is not enough [cello] instruments and cello teachers because we became so popular, everyone wanted to start playing cello.

What are your influences and how do you decide what pop and rock songs you want to arrange?

SH: We just pick up from everyone, the little bits, the best ones. If we like the little bits, we combine and create what we create.

LS: Sometime we choose Top 40 songs, just to get attention. What we try to do is take rock classics—songs that are forever –and flip them around and do our own masterpiece out of them. Many people who do this; they cover Taylor Swift or something that is popular, knowing people are watching that on YouTube.

SH: We never do that—cover anything just because it is popular right now. We do it only what we feel, what we can contribute to the song.

LS: So Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” can be compared to the greatest classical masterpieces—the sounds, the production. A beautiful U2 song can be compared to the most beautiful Tchaikovsky movement or Chopin movement in terms of emotions and the message that it delivers. “With or Without You” a song like this, it is forever.