For the Record: Boston Cello Quartet, ‘The Latin Project’

By Cristina Schreil

You might know the Boston Cello Quartet—formed in 2010 and composed of Boston Symphony Orchestra cellists Blaise Dejardin, Adam Esbensen, Mihail Jojatu and Alexandre Lecarme—from some unconventional contexts. For instance, from their collaborations with rock group Train or at Tanglewood, where they performed the James Bond Concertino with the Boston Pops and Keith Lockhart. Or, perhaps you were among the thousands who saw them perform Metallica’s Enter Sandman at Fenway Park in 2013.

One might have expected their second studio album (their first, Pictures, was released in 2013) to ride this fun momentum. Yet The Latin Project, released in January, is the quartet’s interpretation of beloved music from the Latin world. Included are works by Isaac Albéniz, Astor Piazzolla, Chick Corea and Enrique Granados, with some arranged by Dejardin and Lecarme. The album also includes the world premiere of a new commissioned work, “Bossa do Fim,” by Paul Desenne. The group recorded over three days in a church in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston.

I spoke with Dejardin and Esbensen, both calling from Boston, about how The Latin Project came to be.

Boston Cello Quartet

What compelled you all to focus on this repertoire?
Esbensen: We all have different answers. For me I remember that we had played a couple of pieces on earlier programs that were kind of different styles and for me I thought it always worked really well for cello. They were a lot of really nice, melodic writings. I think it has a rhythm and I’ve always found it worked really well for the group, as far as four cellos. For me I thought a whole album of it would be sort of a nice way to feature the quartet in a different way and have a theme we could play around with.


On Pictures, you played “La Muerte del Angel” by Piazzolla. Was that the point of departure you’re speaking about?
Esbensen: For sure, that’s one of them. That piece in particular we used a lot. I think it was a successful arrangement, it’s one of the first ones Blaise did and it just felt kind of right for the group. We used it a lot for encores and things like that. I think it was just a successful medium for us to explore.

You’ve described this album as a presentation of this music from the perspective of “four regular guys.” Could you explain what viewpoint you bring?
Dejardin: We all have different tastes that some people don’t expect from classical musicians. They expect us to go home and listen to more Beethoven and that’s certainly not what I do. So I think this album sort of represented that variety of taste that we have just as musicians. And you know, there is classical music on this album; Spanish classical music is a huge repertoire and it’s also half of this album, so it’s not just Latin jazz. But I think both go very well together in the sense that there are some very nice melodies and there’s always interesting rhythms. There’s a lot of joyfulness to it, if you will, that just permeates every piece.

I know that recording in a church can present some challenges like outside noise and extra resonance. Was that the case?
Esbensen: I don’t think [resonance] was a challenge as far as sound. I think we really trusted our recording engineer [Jesse Lewis]. You’re right about the noise. This particular church not only had a lot of birds around it but it was also about three blocks from a train station as well as in the flight path of Logan [International Airport]. So we had a lot to deal with sound-wise, but our engineer is just so great. He really made it work without it being too much of a distraction for us.

How would you compare this recording experience to the last album?
Esbensen: There’s one extra thing that I noticed on this one, which was nice, is that the engineer is actually also a cellist. So I feel like he was helpful in different ways, as far as guiding what we should be thinking about or things that we could focus on. It came from a place where we could all understand the same language as far as cello goes.


Dejardin: I think recording is both stressful, because you have to give your best, and also interesting because you really dig so deep into yourself to really give your best. So I always feel a bit guilty after recording an album; we sound so much better as a group than before.

What particular quality did working with an engineer who also performs on your instrument bring to the project?
Esbensen: He was very hands-on, I thought. For me it was also kind of a matter of trust. I trusted him with certain things as far as balance and sound and if he needed to hear someone give a little more—just little details that we could all be on board and trust each other to really craft the thing the way we wanted it to sound as a cellist.

Were there any particular pieces that were more challenging to record?
Dejardin: I think we would all agree that “Bossa do Fim” by Paul Dessanne is probably the hardest piece for us. And once again he’s a bit like Jesse, he’s a composer but he’s also a cellist. So he really knows how to use the instrument. And already the way we play and our arrangements are already pretty challenging and his piece is also very, very challenging. So that piece was a lot of work and is very good music and I actually think we got a great result.


Do you have a favorite track?
Dejardin: That’s tough. They all sound great.

Esbensen: You mentioned the Piazzolla from the old one and I actually liked the Piazzolla on the new one also. I don’t know what it is about the Piazzolla stuff but it works in my mind. I really enjoyed playing those.

You also involved BSO percussionist Will Hudgins on five tracks. What was that like?
Esbensen: I thought that was amazing! [laughs] I wish we could have him play every concert we do, because I think it adds so much.