By David Templeton
Photos by Roger Rich
“We know how to play softly.”
Sulic—laughing like a man who’s just heard himself say something for the 10,000th time—knows his remark does not exactly match the duo’s hard-rocking reputation. “But we do know how to play softly, and precisely,” he continues. “We know how to play beautifully.”
Sulic, 29, and Hauser, 30—better known as the massive crossover phenomenon 2Cellos—are speaking this morning from Croatia, where the longtime friends met as teens and bonded over their mutual love of music. They often found themselves pitted against each other at various academic competitions. Sulic eventually graduated from London’s Royal Academy of Music, while Hauser graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.
Over the last few years, the duo has achieved worldwide acclaim for their rousing recordings of rowdy rock-and-roll classics. “But we’ve played and recorded ballads, too,” Sulic points out. “In concert, we always play gentle melodies that melt the audience’s hearts, and make everyone fall in love.”
“And then,” Hauser adds, “we do more of the crazy, headbanging stuff.”
2Cellos adopted their numerically specific name around the time they released their video recording of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal,” which instantly transformed the duo into a viral sensation. The video received over three million views on YouTube within its first few weeks, and was eventually seen by Elton John, who quickly invited the pair to join him on his 2011 European tour. Their first album, titled simply 2Cellos, was released in late 2011, and has subsequently been followed by three more, all featuring highly produced adaptations of pop and rock tunes.
In concert, 2Cellos is known for intense, entertaining performances that have won the twosome millions of followers, the majority of whom are decidedly younger than the standard classical cello fans.
Their new album, according to Hauser and Sulic, could change that.
Titled Score, the new CD is a sumptuous serving of lush melodies adapted from motion-picture and television soundtracks—recognizable themes from Love Story, The Godfather, and The Deer Hunter, and tunes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Titanic, and Game of Thrones. In place of the patented 2Cellos overdubbing and meticulous studio production is a whole new sound for the two. Backed by the London Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Robin Smith, Sulic and Hauser pursue a lush and lovely, even somewhat “old-fashioned” sound that could potentially confuse fans who were first drawn to 2Cellos through their covers of such tunes as AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle,” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Though the 2Cellos repertoire has included the less hard-rocking sounds of Elton John, Sting, and, ahem, Sonny Bono, such stuff must seem absolutely “heavy metal” when compared to “Moon River” (from Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and the theme from Love Story.
It is no overstatement to say that no 2Cellos album to date has sounded quite so . . . unlike 2Cellos. That, says Sulic, is precisely the point.
“We’re mostly known for being wild and crazy, the ‘rock-and-roll cellists!’” he says. “That’s OK. That’s our reputation. It’s fine. We like it. But with this new album, we wanted to also show our gentle, romantic side. We want people to know that we’re not just the crazy cello savages.”
“So we added an orchestra,” says Hauser.
“In a way,” explains Sulic, “recording Score has been like going back to the roots, in our style of playing, you know? It’s much more classical. When we met, we were doing only classical music. The rock stuff was a way to show the world something different, that we could do things with the cello that were amazing and wild.”
Having since shown the world they could make the cello rock, Sulic and Hauser say the time has come to show people that 2Cellos is no one-trick band. “We want to reach more people, bigger audiences,” says Hauser. “We want to make even more people fall in love with the cello. Yes, we started out with rock and pop—with our crazy arrangements—but this is going back to where we started: back to the music that made us fall in love with cello in the first place.”
“Film music is some of the most beautiful music ever composed,” says Sulic. “I’ve been listening to film music since I was a young kid, a teenager. Both of us. Doing an album like this was always on our bucket list.”
Score, released in April, has definitely opened eyes. Even before its debut, the album had fans talking when 2Cellos released a video of Sulic and Hauser playing the epic theme from Game of Thrones. The shoot took place in Dubrovnik, on the site of the ancient Lovrijenac Fortress that serves as the set of King’s Landing in the popular fantasy series. Impressively arranged, the medley engages all of Hauser and Sulic’s rock-and-roll showmanship, while retaining the music’s lavish, string-fueled orchestral power.
That tune, it turns out, was just the appetizer for the multi-course banquet of rich, symphonic fare that is Score. And so far, the two players suggest, their fans are eating it up. “Some of them,” says Hauser, “are loving it even more than the rock stuff.”
Asked how they went about selecting the pieces for the new album, Sulic says they started with a long list of favorite compositions from some of the greatest movies ever made. “We chose primarily because of the music,” he says. “Not so much for the movies themselves. We thought, what is
the most beautiful, most romantic, most melodic film music out there? And then we pulled out the pieces that would fit the cello the best. All of these melodies are legendary.”
“Some of these movies we grew up with, of course,” says Hauser. “Movies like Schindler’s List and Gladiator. Some of these movies are older, like The Deer Hunter and Love Story.
“That’s a beautiful movie,” he adds, admitting that some of 2Cellos’ fans may never have seen it, or even heard of it. “It’s very sad,” he adds, “but the theme from the film is so powerful, we knew we had to include it. Playing it, with the full orchestra behind us, it breaks our hearts.”
Performing with the London Symphony, says Hauser, was an especially big thrill.
“From making our first albums, the crazy rock albums, we learned a lot about the whole recording process,” he says. “We learned a lot about mixing and all of that technical stuff. This new album, though, is a very classical-sounding album, and we wanted to get the most cinematic sound possible. Not soft, exactly, but something that everybody can fall in love with—a warm sound, lots of reverb, very romantic.”
Though much is being made of 2Cellos’ “new sound,” Sulic and Hauser say that playing such classically influenced music is not particularly challenging so much as it is freeing.
“For us, it’s no problem to switch into any genre or style,” says Sulic. “It’s one of our greatest weapons. We can collaborate with a hip-hop artist or a rock artist as easily as we can perform with a symphony orchestra, or play a classical piece accompanied by piano. That’s our best tool, our flexibility. In this day and age, when everything is changing so fast all the time in the music industry, it’s a blessing to be able to do many different things.”
So, does this mean that 2Cellos would be releasing an album of Beethoven or Bach in the future?
“Who knows,” says Hauser.
“Absolutely,” says Sulic. “Our goal is yes, to someday do an album of all classical pieces, also with a major symphony orchestra, like the Berlin Philharmonic or something. That would be incredible.”
“But if we do that,” allows Hauser, “we won’t choose the standard cello repertoire, because it’s too limited. And there are so many recordings of those pieces that already exist. If we were to do a classical album, we would do something new with it. We’d pick the most beautiful classical pieces ever written—and then we’d, you know, we’d do our 2Cellos thing.”
More and more, Score is sounding like a true strategic effort—not just to bring in new fans, but to carefully prepare 2Cellos’ early fans for what’s next. “When 2Cellos does a full album of classical works,” says Sulic, “it will be an album that—when a metal-head or rock-and-roll lover hears it—will make them instantly fall in love with the beauty of classical music.
“This is the future,” he says. “I don’t know when, but we’re definitely going to do it.”