Annie are you OK? Will you tell us, that you’re OK?
You start nodding your head as you mouth the words to the 1987 hit, Smooth Criminal. But imagine that instead of hearing Michael Jackson’s falsetto voice, you hear—and watch—as two young cellists literally tear it up on stage. That’s right, I said cellists.
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It is hard to keep your jaw from hitting the ground the minute they start playing. As a classically trained violinist, I tend to have a soft spot for the strings in any capacity, but this is especially the case when musicians take “the classical” and find a way to infuse it with “the contemporary” the way that 2CELLOS does. From the rhythmic bow strokes to the guitar like squealing, 2CELLOS fulfills every Orchestra dork’s dream.
Theodor Adorno—one of the 20th century’s most prolific cultural critics—describes Beethoven’s music as revelatory because it transcends the rules and limits of the musical form in order to “take on its true meaning.” Behind the necessarily obtuse philosophical language, I think that Adorno’s observation speaks true to any great musician. When you can transcend, surpass, and go beyond the constraints of your art form, you bring to light the very essence of art itself—creativity. 2CELLOS absolutely transcends the art of the cello, and furthermore, makes it more accessible and captivating to the modern ear in the process.
The idea that the cello—what looks to most like an oversized violin awkwardly placed between the players legs—could recreate the deep strum of the baseline and the piercing squeals of the lead guitar with a few strands of horse hair and some hardened tree sap is quite simply, incredible. Mixed in with the Jacksonian melody were the products of hours upon hours of classical training.
The understanding of the delicate combination of the pressure beneath your bow and the speed with which you pull it required to play a string instrument takes years to develop. Knowing where your fingers go to make the A-flat just flat enough and the G-sharp in tune requires muscle memorization—only the result of multiple scale books and midnight runs up and down the arpeggios. By playing through century’s worth of sonatas and concertos, your hands, as well as your mind, begin to internalize the rhythms and patterns that our musical forefathers concretized. Learning to read between the staffs, classical musicians like the men of 2CELLOS come to embody their art form. Once this knowledge has been reached and once the forms and rules have been digested, the only other option is to begin playing with them.
“Perhaps a crescendo here and some staccato there might do the trick,” one might say, “slow down your upstroke so the bow drags—it sounds more like the distortion effect on the lead.” Equipped with both the praxis and the art, the classically trained musician can transform a nonstandard song into a classically modern masterpiece. By moving passed the sheet music, 2CELLOS represents the very act of making music—that of creating sounds that speak to more than their notes can communicate.
Fortunately, the men of 2CELLOS aren’t the only musicians transforming our relationship with classical sounds. Youtube sensations like “The Piano Guys” and “Vitamin String Quartet” are reshaping the way that we view classical instruments. The mixture of the classical with the contemporary transcends both genres and brings the mastery and precision of old into the 21st century.
Photo: Pam Shu/The Georgetown Voice