By Nicolas Grizzle | From the March-April 2023 issue of Strings magazine
Though Croatian cello duo 2Cellos—Stjepan Hauser and Luka Šulić—finished up its farewell tour last year, half the group is still going strong. Hauser (the nom de plume of Stjepan Hauser, usually stylized in all caps) will be embarking on a solo arena tour this year with a new work in his repertoire, the overture from Phantom of the Opera. To commemorate the 35th anniversary of the Broadway show, the Croatian cellist released a single of the piece in February, recorded with the Prague Symphony Orchestra. It became all the more relevant when it was announced that the show would be ending its historic run this year in February (though after brisk sales following the announcement, it was extended through April 15).
Player: Cellist Hauser has played arena concerts all over the world. He has collaborated with Andrea Bocelli, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, George Michael, and Steven Tyler. He feels at home in music of many genres and has released recordings as a solo artist and as a member of disbanded duo 2Cellos.
Title of Work Being Studied: Phantom of the Opera Overture
Composer: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Date Composed: 1986
Name of edition studied: Hauser’s own arrangement
Why did you choose this tune to release as a single?
This is an iconic tune. I mean, everyone knows it, and everyone loves it for a reason. It’s really great, and I think it sounds perfect on the cello. The melody itself is really good for the cello. It’s melodic but also very dramatic. No one would think of it as something that would fit on cello so perfectly.
What makes it such a good fit for cello?
The melody [sings main melody]. It’s so beautiful. And it gets more and more intense and dramatic, and it grows. The combination in the end—it’s perfect. It’s like a cello piece when you hear it.
You have said the cello is the closest instrument to the human voice. How do you play this piece in a way that reflects its vocal origins?
In general, when I play cello, I always treat it like a voice. I always feel like a singer. Cello is the best instrument when it comes to those melodies, those beautiful songs. And I always wanted to show to the world that cello is the most beautiful instrument.
What defines cello for you?
The great thing about cello is that it has all the range. Other instruments don’t have it. Violin is only high. Double bass is only low. Cello is everything, low and high and in between. It’s the perfect register that’s so nice, warm, and gentle. It’s really pleasing to hear anytime. It doesn’t annoy you.
Do the lyrics of a song influence your performance?
Not really. I was always bad at lyrics. I only focus on melodies. What’s important is to really catch the feel and mood of the song you’re playing, the character. That’s what’s important to feel. Even my favorite songs, pop songs, I never know the lyrics. I just mumble the melodies.
You wore the original Phantom’s mask for the video. Did it have an effect on how you played?
It wasn’t easy. It’s glued to your face, but I was always afraid it would fall off. It’s the original mask from Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. I was the real Phantom, basically. But especially for me, because I’m always playing with so much movement, it wasn’t easy, but I managed.
I had my first big solo concert in Budapest in an arena [after the recording], and I had the mask on for Phantom, and it fell off just before the end. And then I just took it and threw it to the audience. It was really funny—I made a show out of it.
Is there anything in the works for a farewell to Phantom with this piece?
The idea with this video was an anniversary. I just knew about the anniversary, but I didn’t know they were going to close it.
Are there any specific techniques you use for this piece or lyrical pieces like it?
Actually, this one is completely natural for the cello. The only challenge is that keys are changing all the time. Maybe some parts could be a little bit tricky—harmony changes, modulation, and stuff, you know. So some parts are not perfectly comfortable, but overall it’s natural for the cello.
What’s your practice routine for something like this?
I used to practice like crazy when I was a student. But now there is not really much time when on tour, when you’re traveling all the time. I’m really lucky to have this gift to learn a song quickly and record it almost straightaway. I don’t know how to explain it—that’s the process. [Laughs] Just go ahead and record it.
Do you change things as you go during the recording process?
In the studio, while I’m recording it, that’s where I figure things out and get new ideas. Should this be an octave higher or octave lower? Should I do the ending high? Those are questions you can only realize when you’re recording it, in that process.
You have a classical side to your career, too. How does your approach differ when playing pop pieces as opposed to classical?
I haven’t played those hardcore classical pieces in a long time, like cello concertos and sonatas. I don’t do it because, well, thousands of other cellists are doing it. I just want to do something no one does. And to many people, this is classical music. Because really, when you play those songs on the cello, they seem like classical masterpieces. Especially the arrangements I do, it always sounds like a symphonic piece, like a classical piece.
How are these pop pieces like classical pieces?
All those shorter pieces, when I play them on cello, they sound like they suddenly get another dimension. It sounds like a classical piece written for the cello. And people think, “Wow, that’s classical music,” all of a sudden.
When you say something sounds like it’s written for the cello, do you hear it in your head that way?
I know straightaway. And that’s great about what we did as 2Cellos and what I do now: we take a pop song or rock song and turn it into a classical masterpiece. So we’re giving a whole new dimension to a song. And it sounds like something new with a totally different approach.
Speaking of 2Cellos, I know you’ve shifted gears and are doing your solo stuff now. What’s on tap for you? Are you going on tour?
Yeah, I’m going to have my first solo tour ever. I’m really excited about the arena tour. It’s huge. I’m going to have a big production; I’m going to play all kinds of music.
How many musicians will you have with you?
I’m going to have 20 musicians onstage with me. I have strings, because the first part of my show is more classical, movie soundtrack, orchestral music—calm, more elegant. The second part of the show turns into total madness. The band joins in and we start doing Latin songs. Everyone starts dancing in the audience—it becomes a crazy show in the end. I have keyboard, drums, two percussionists, bass, guitar, brass section—it’s crazy.
Is there a piece you’ve always wanted to do but for some reason haven’t been able to?
Well, you can’t really do hip-hop on cello. It’s just kind of repetitive, with no melody.
Are there any songs in particular you would want to do?
There are some songs that I love, but they’re just not made for the cello. I love Elvis, for example. But his songs, apart from “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” you can’t really do on the cello. It’s not really in the nature of the instrument, unfortunately.
So, you don’t force a song. You just let it come to you naturally.
Basically, you could do everything. But I want to do something that really seems like it’s for the cello. It really has to be natural and sound really good. To force it and jump on every new hit, it’s something we never really did. That’s what’s annoying, when everyone is just following trends and just doing what’s hot right now. You should keep a certain—how do you call it—dignity, and do something that’s good for the instrument, not just do it because it’s popular right now.
What Hauser Plays
Cello: “A very old French-style cello” by an unknown maker