Ahead of their landmark Royal Albert Hall show, 2CELLOS hosted an exciting Elgar Room workshop, giving a group of young musicians the chance to learn one of their iconic ‘rock cello’ tracks, and to ask Luka and Stjepan questions about their career.
They started the workshop with a full rendition of their breakout hit Smooth Criminal, before teaching it to students along with Coldplay’s Viva la Vida.
“Let’s start with the bass – it’s fundamental” says Luka – “E-flat, F, B-flat, G, now just do that for 2 hours!” Thumping their feet and whooping, they lead the students in a chorus rendition of the Coldplay track. At one point, they get every student to slap their cello with their bow, achieving the thump effect admired on their best-loved tracks.
“We have many tricks”, says Stjepan. By finding different sounds in the cello, from percussion to voice, they create rich rhythms and illusions of many more instruments on stage. One trick is to multitask with the left hand – plucking percussive high notes on With or Without You while holding low notes, creating a richer sound.
In another case, on Smooth Criminal, they hit percussive beats on the neck of the cello while playing the melody. Luka actually tunes his low string down to form an octave, creating a richer sound than with two normally tuned instruments – the resulting buzz makes it “sound like 4 cellos”.
The guys lead the room of students in a sung rendition of With or Without You, but Stjepan says that normally the cello does the singing for them. “We’re so happy to play different kinds of music”, says Luka, but “the classical training was so important. We still play scales every day.”
In their Q&A, they discuss meeting as young, rival cellists aged 14, and ultimately “joining forces” when they reunited in London years later. Luka still plays his father’s cello, from his childhood in Slovenia, and although they play carbon fibre and electric cellos on stage, Luka still favours wood: “nothing can replace a wooden cello at first…there’s time for electric later”.
Their inspirations mirror their own musical journey; initially they were inspired by the great cellists, before discovering other musicians and composers, and ultimately the great rock and pop musicians – the list covered Jacqueline du Pre, David Oistrakh, Sting and Michael Jackson.
“Now we’re just inspired by animals – we play like animals” jokes Stjepan. “It’s important to have idols” he says, “but you must be able to create your own voice”.
Their biggest piece of advice: “work hard”. Luka says “work hard and practice now, so you can enjoy later”. Not necessarily long hours, he says, but “clever practice”.
All photos © Andy Paradise