Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser achieved near instant fame soon after they uploaded an inexpensively-made video of themselves playing Michael Jackson’s 1987 hit “Smooth Criminal.”
The video went viral, garnering three million hits on YouTube in three days. Shortly afterward, the young Croatian cellists received a telephone call from Sir Elton John inviting them on his 2011 concert tour.
A record contract with Sony Masterworks soon followed.
Calling themselves “2Cellos,” their new CD of the same name features the duo's own arrangements of pop and rock standards by the likes of Guns N’ Roses, Sting, Nine Inch Nails and U2.
“It’s like the American Dream, really,” says Hauser, in his Croatian-inflected English.
He realizes that 2Cellos might never have achieved instant success even 15 years ago. Record companies might view their kind of music as too risky to produce and promote.
"But when they see the reaction on the Internet, they see how huge our fan base is and we are doing something new, they signed us," says Hauser.
The two had studied abroad, as many classically trained young musicians do, hoping for opportunities.
“But then it turned out,” says Sulic, “you don’t have to go anywhere."
"You can stay with a few sheep and cows in the village and make it big," adds Hauser with a laugh.
Besides making it big, the pair wants to push beyond the traditional boundaries of the cello.
"Because in classical music the cello is used in only one way,” says Hauser. “And the cello can rock. And we are young, crazy, passionate. We feel there is an animal inside of us that wants to explode.”
And explode they do, with songs like Guns N' Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle,” and Michal Jackson’s “Human Nature.” Sulic and Hauser hope this sort of music will expose young people to the wilds of the cello, while introducing them to rock and pop classics of their parents’ generation.
"It really hurts us when we see the kind of music they listen to. It’s like fast food," says Hauser, "and I don’t like it."
Sulic thinks contemporary club music is to blame. “Melody is usually only two notes," he says. "Where is the beauty in that?"
It’s easy to perceive the beauty in 2Cellos’ rendition of “With You or Without You" by U2, in “Misirlou,” the theme from the film "Pulp Fiction," and in Sting’s “Fragile.”
Because their rigorous classical training is evident even to a casual listener, some have called their album a “crossover” phenomenon. It's a label Sulic resists.
"Some crossover artists, they take classical masterpiece like a Beethoven symphony and add a techno beat, and that’s called ‘crossover,’ he says. "We try to do it the opposite. We try to take really good rock and pop music and turn it into classical masterpiece by bringing to this music this other dimension.”
“We want to show that music is universal. It doesn’t matter what style it belongs to," adds Hauser. "It’s our mission to spread great music and attract as many young people as possible and make the world a better place."