Classically-trained cellists take hits and make them their own

2Cellists to perform at Bon Secours Wellness Arena

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2Cellos is playing Bon Secours Wellness Arena on April 9 at 7:30 p.m. Photo provided.

The video clip begins with a Victorian-era audience, complete with stuffed shirts and powdered wigs, filing into an elegantly-appointed concert hall. As they settle into their seats, two young, dark-haired men walk out onstage in their breeches and lace, each of them holding a cello.

They sit down and begin playing a beautiful classical duet, but quickly build intensity and speed. One of them begins repeating a familiar-sounding, descending riff as the other begins pounding on his instrument to provide an insistent, propulsive rhythm. When he breaks off from that percussive pounding to play a frenzied melody line over the other cello’s descending riff, that’s when it hits you: These guys are playing AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck!”

Welcome to the odd and irresistible world of Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser, aka 2Cellos.

Since debuting in 2011 on YouTube with a wild re-arrangement of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal,” 2Cellos has made a specialty out of reimagining both their instruments and popular music of just about every stripe. They’ve taken songs by an array of artists from hard-rock to easy-listening and reconceived them as fiery, passionate cello duets that meld classical precision with the fun of pop music. They especially seem to love Sting (they’ve covered “Shape Of My Heart” and The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”), Muse (they’ve recorded versions of “Hysteria” and “Supermassive Black Hole”) and AC/DC (the aforementioned “Thunderstruck” and “Highway To Hell,” which features a cameo by mind-bending metal guitarist Steve Vai).

Over the past seven years, the Croatian duo has racked up hundreds of millions of views on YouTube and gained a rabid worldwide fanbase. They’ve also made some famous friends, not least of which is Sir Elton John, who praises the duo effusively in a video clip on the 2Cellos website and hired them to be part of his band for three years after seeing their “Smooth Criminal” video in 2011.

2Cellos has a new album out called Let There Be Cello, which contains versions of songs by Queen, Led Zeppelin and The White Stripes, among many others. And their first-ever American arena tour will bring them to the Bon Secours Wellness Arena on Tuesday. It’s a hell of a journey for two guys that met at music camp when they were 14.

“We immediately clicked,” says Sulic of that fateful teenaged meeting. “We appreciated each other’s talent, but we were also very competitive, like rivals. And it’s still like that today. There’s still a rivalry, but that’s what makes us better; when we join forces something magical happens.”

Sulic and Hauser didn’t see each other again for years, until the two of them coincidentally ended up living in London in 2010. They got together and came up with the idea for 2Cellos the way that many good ideas are born: Over a couple of adult beverages.

“We had a few beers and started discussing how we wanted to do something new and exciting,” Sulic says. “Something that would attract a wider and younger audience to the cello. And that’s how it started.”

The idea to incorporate pop music was in place from the beginning.

“We wanted to shock the world with something crazy,” Sulic says. “We started this project because we didn’t want to play only classical music. We do still play SOME classical, but this project is about breaking boundaries and combining all genres of music and really doing something revolutionary and new with the cello.”

It’s not just about shock value, though. The duo has to hear something in a song that makes sense to them in order to create their version of it, both as musicians and human beings.

“We never arrange a song if we don’t feel like we can do justice to the original or make it better on the cello,” Sulic says. “There has to be a certain melody or riff that we can recreate on the cello that allows us to express ourselves. That’s what we’re looking for; a certain emotion that we can translate to the listener on the cello.”

Just as you can forget the traditional straight-ahead classical repertoire when 2Cellos play live, you can also forget the sedate classical performance style. A 2Cellos show is full of pyrotechnics both literal and figurative; there’s lots of head-banging, bow-fraying, foot-stomping action at their shows.

“We have such a diverse fanbase, and it’s not even so much about music anymore,” Sulic says. “It’s about the live experience, the emotion and the passion, and I think that’s why people love coming to our shows.”

What: 2Cellos
Where: Bon Secours Wellness Arena, 650 N. Academy St., Greenville
When: Tuesday, April 9th, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $53.50-$84.50
Info: 864-241-3800, http://www.bonsecoursarena.com/

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