Most working cellists play in classical ensembles that perform in concert halls and music theaters. Tonight, Columbia's Rose Music Hall features a different take on the instrument. The Portland Cello Project is an ensemble interested in testing the boundaries of what you expect from the cello.
Diane Chaplin is the director of educational outreach for the Portland Cello Project. She books the ensemble - called PCP by their fans - into schools and other educational settings. These non-traditional performance settings allow members of the PCP to introduce the cello to new fans. It is in those settings that listeners hear performances that might include covers of songs by R&B diva Rihanna, string works by Gabriel Faure and an entire set that pays homage to the late Portland singer-songwriter Elliot Smith.
Asked about the PCP's origin story, Chaplin offered this:
The Portland Cello Project came about sort of very casually and accidentally. Portland seems to be a gathering ground for cellists. Several professional musicians of different ilks came into Portland and started hanging out together and said 'Let's get together and read through some cello quartets and sextets.' They started doing that and it sounded pretty good and they thought 'Let's go play in a bar!' [They] did a show and it was incredibly successful and it took off from there.
Chaplin's story parallels that of other members of the PCP. She started playing cello as a child, studied diligently and eventually earned a masters degree in cello at Juilliard School of Music. She focused her career on chamber music playing for 20 years in the Colorado String Quartet. While with the Colorado ensemble Chaplin played with current MU School of Music faculty member Julie Rosenfeld.
Eventually, however, Chaplin wanted to expand her musical horizons. Meeting up with members of the PCP became the "perfect fit" for her to explore the cello universe beyond the classical repertoire. Chaplin says attendees at PCP performances might expect some classical music, but should also plan to hear cello-based covers of pop songs from today, hip-hop, jazz classics and more.
We feel out the situation. Sometimes we think it is going to be something other than it is... When we go into a bar depending on the atmosphere if it really is a rowdy crowd that wants to hear loud, driving music we'll draw some of the lower key things off the set list and through in some heavy metal and more exciting stuff. We are really responsive to the audience... We try to give them a mix.
The Portland Cello Project takes the stage for a 7:30 show tonight at Columbia's Rose Music Hall.