There is nothing in the world that sounds quite like the Portland Cello Project. Whether they are playing original compositions like founding member Gideon Freudmann's sweeping yet intimate "Denmark" or Douglas Jenkins' epic and inviting arrangement of Kanye's "All of the Lights," PCP is easily one of the most exciting musical acts touring right now. With more than 1,000 songs in Portland Cello Project's repertoire, you will never see the same show twice or even be able to predict the new levels of artistic excellence they will be achieving next.
Diane Chaplin, director of educational outreach for PCP (and an excellent cellist as well) took the time to answer a few questions the unfamiliar listener might have about the Portland Cello Project, their history, and what to expect from one of their shows.
Source Weekly: What was the initial concept for Portland Cello Project and how did the group form?
Diane Chaplin: Portland Cello Project was formed in a sort of "accidental" way in 2007—several cellists thought it would be fun to get together and play music, which wasn't something they usually got to do with each other. It sounded so good that they decided to do "just one show" in a club, and that went so well that they decided to continue doing it.
SW: Is it a rotating group or is there usually the same core group? Are there still members that have been playing with the group since the beginning of the project?
DC: There are still cellists performing with the Cello Project that have been with us since the beginning. Some people have moved on, though, either because they are now living in other cities or have taken different career paths, or are too busy with their own performing to play with PCP regularly. In addition, sometimes one member or another will have another performing opportunity that prevents them from going on tour, so we have a small group of core players that do most of the performances, and then an expanded roster that we can call upon when we need more players.
SW: How do you begin to break down your hip-hop covers? Do you find it's more of a challenge to place the classical structure onto hip-hop?
DC: Most of our arrangements come from the same concept, which is that the cello is primarily a melodic instrument. We don't really look at the group as having a classical structure, but rather that all music has the same basic structure: melody, bass line, rhythm, inner voices, maybe some sparkly bits. The biggest challenge in the hip-hop genre is to mimic the sound of a voice that's speaking more than singing, and we do that with a kind of rhythmic patter of repeated notes. The rest of the hip-hop music layers fit right into the basic music structure.
SW: How many songs does PCP have in its repertoire right now?
DC: Our official answer is about a thousand, but of course for any one show we aren't choosing from that entire repertoire. There are usually somewhere between 75 and 100 songs that we might be touring in a given season, and when we have a special event, we might have an additional 20-30 songs that are pulled together just for that.
SW: What can someone who has never seen a Portland Cello Project show expect?
DC: Our audiences can expect a really wide variety of interesting and fun music. This season we are featuring some songs by Elliott Smith, to support the album we released a year ago, and we'll definitely perform some of them in Bend. We have set of mixed genre songs we call Music of the Night, which features a new original song as well as jazz, movie music, and popular classical music. Our shows are high energy and we love to perform, which I think translates into a show that everyone will enjoy.
Portland Cello Project
7:30 pm, Sunday, Nov. 29
The Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St.