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Portland Cello Project

13 Sep


Going to church as a child, the choir, or the organ preludes and postludes were often the most thrilling and moving parts of the morning. As an adult, some of the best concert experiences have come in churches – Andrew Bird‘s Gezelligheid show at St. Mark’s Episcopal, Zoo Animal, Retribution Gospel Choir & the Starfolk at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist. With the church doors open to Chicago Avenue on Friday night, Mount Olive Lutheran added another to that list, with the genre-crossing and eternally delightful Portland Cello Project.

There was a 5-member touring lineup for PCP, who have stopped at the Cedar Cultural Center before (they very graciously gave the Cedar thanks from stage.) Designated spokesperson Doug Jenkins, who called out the program from stage, Anna Fitz, Kevin Jackson, newest addition to the group Kelly Quesada and Skip vonKuske, who had a number of standout turns through the night.

The quintet opened with an original number, “Robin Hood Changes His Oil,” a peppy number that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in the opening credits of a movie featuring talking animals going across country. They followed that with an immaculate and moving rendition of Bach’s Sarabande from BWV 1012 in D Major, what Jenkins called “sacred music for a sacred space.” They followed that bliss with what may have been the best one-two punch of the night, starting with a fiery cover of Dave Brubeck‘s “Blue Rondo à la Turk” where vonKuske absolutely owned Paul Desmond’s alto sax lines, from the frenetic pops to the languorous slides. From jazz they went straight into PCP member Gideon Freudmann’s composition “Denmark,” a dark, sparse work that brought to mind their covers of Radiohead‘s OK Computer, and was the perfect comedown counterpoint.

Portland Cello Project covers Adele – “Rolling in the Deep” from CakeIn15 on Vimeo.

Of course, not everything in the night was so high-minded. The Mario Bros. theme got a spin, and the pop and hip-hop covers that have raised the PCP’s profile got a moment in the spotlight, with Adele, Kanye‘s “All of the Lights,” Li’l Wayne‘s “Lollipop” (“Li’l Wayne is a baroque composer at heart,” Jenkins insightfully snarked from stage) and a new cover of Fleet Foxes‘ “White Winter Hymnal” getting a debut before they release it on a winter-themed record this fall.

On paper, PCP really shouldn’t work as well as they do – a large number of the same instrument, playing music from across the globe and time? Can you imagine a 7-Fender band, or a 12 clarinetists playing together? VonKuske remarked after the show that PCP started as a bunch of classical musicians getting together to drink beer and play chamber music, before a one-off cover of Britney Spears‘ “Toxic” became a hit. But that’s the beauty of the range of skill of the musicians and sound that the cello can produce. When introducing Quesada, who just graduated with a Master’s in cello performance, Jenkins noted that this is what you do with a masters now – hit the road and make the music accessible. In the past week they had played honkey-tonk and heavy metal bars, as well as symphony halls and universities. It is good to know that at least the musicians of the world realize that the music has to get to the people.

The free concert was part of Mount Olive’s Music & Fine Arts Series, which will bring organist John Weaver, who previously chaired the organ department at Julliard, for a recital on October 20th. Mount Olive’s organ is a wonderful instrument that will fill the room, it remains to be seen if he will cover and Hova.

Portland Cello Project Encore from CakeIn15 on Vimeo.

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