Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hauser were the lead duo of the 2Cellos performance at The Civic in Auckland on their third tour of New Zealand; a tour which promised to bring the best contemporary compositions together and present them in an alternative way. The tracks ranged from TV and screen to popular music. The duo reminded the cheering crowd that they had travelled all the way for one performance only with an orchestra of string musicians. But, with a sold out theatre... they might’ve stayed a little longer.
2Cellos have five albums and the latest entitled Let There Be Cello was released in October 2018. They are a thoroughly modern music sensation who play to enthusiastic crowds around the world after they got their first break on YouTube which catapulted them to fame. At the origin of their fame is the cello... an instrument whose range is compared to the human voice and one which has an extensive and historical place in the music of the Western world over the last five hundred years or so. Šulić and Hauser brought energy and charisma with this beautiful and evocative instrument as the theatre-staged show proved that evening.
Famous cellist Jacqueline de Pré said that playing the cello lifts you out of yourself into a delirious place... and this is certainly the feeling Šulić and Hauser provoked at the Civic. The cello is my favourite instrument with its bass tone and long notes which requires the musician to crouch over the instrument in order to play it. The cellos used by the duo were electric; black, shiny and looked like modernist interpretations of the dark wood vessels traditionally played.
2Cellos are known for playing a crowd-pleasing repertoire... and it was no different in Auckland, as they raced through Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal and Highway To Hell with enough posing and pouting to outdo the most extrovert of frontmen.
The energy and symbiosis of the two was evident throughout the show... although Hauser took centre stage for much of the performance. The moments I enjoyed most was when Šulić and Hauser played the same notes together. It is probably a little gimmicky... but the pace and frisson of sound was nothing but breath-taking. To the untrained ear, the precision in their playing seemed tied to their years of training and education. It was a spectacle to watch.
They played a traditional arrangement/composition but also in their oeuvre were the most well-known compositions of popular culture. They played some of the most memorable and dramatic contemporary pieces well known by us all... from Game Of Thrones to the movie Rain Man. Some of which plucked at the audience’s emotions.
The key changes and deep sound when performing a song like My Heart Will Go On truly brought out emotions from the tragic love story in the film Titanic. In the hands of the 2Cellos the music is powerfully recollected. There were some playful visuals at the back of the stage for this show. At times, these were colourful, dynamic and accompanied the musical stories that the instruments told. However, I felt that the illustrations were not inspired, overly-simplified and a distraction during the performance of My Heart Will Go On.
2Cellos really hit their stride with the rock and pop numbers that characterised their breakthrough fame. It was brilliant to watch the dark-haired, smartly-dressed pair frantically bowing and plucking the opening notes of Nirvana’s epic track Smells Like Teen Spirit. This grunge classic was accompanied by drums. Cobain had an ability to evoke confusing, inward-looking, dark and passionate emotions into a song that become a cross generation classic and Hauser and Šulić brought out that dark energy and the loud cacophony onto the stage perfectly. For a song like that, the vocal-less piece worked really well. I particularly enjoyed seeing the drummer play with every fibre of his being during the crescendo.
The cello seems to somehow saw at your soul with its deep bass notes... interspersed with dramatic fast paced frantic plucking; it’s an instrument which demands an energy and engagement from its musician beyond the scope of many instruments, partly because of its size. Every sinew and cartilage stretched... joints are finessed as the body hulks over the instrument. It was obvious that the pace and energy for a one hour forty minute set was highly demanding. Without lyrics, the instrument must do all the work. The play of emotion was somehow increased for many of the songs and we all were invited by 2Cellos to clap, dance and sing at times, a sort of highbrow karaoke. The later part of the show was far beyond their stunt-like beginnings and resulted in a carefully put together and creative performance.