During his time as a dedicated student working toward his master’s degree at the Royal Academy of Music in London, Luka Sulic was surprised one day — and a little bit nervous — when he was called out of class to the dean’s office.
“My first thought was that I was in trouble,” Sulic said of the incident in early February 2011. But that was hardly the case.
Two weeks earlier, Sulic and Stjepan Hauser, both classically trained cellists, had released a video on YouTube of a powerful, somewhat frenetic double cello cover of Michael Jackson’s song “Smooth Criminal.”
It showed the two strikingly handsome young men sitting opposite each other, black carbon fiber cellos standing upright between their legs, passionately playing their instruments with what appeared to be every ounce of energy they could muster. (It’s a good thing the composite cellos — designed by Milton instrument maker Luis Leguia of Luis & Clark Carbon Fiber Instruments — are sturdier than their wooden counterparts.)
Turns out, the dean had seen the video and, at a charity concert soon after, had mentioned it to perhaps the Academy’s most famous former student, Elton John. To say the music legend was impressed by what he saw would be an understatement.
“So I went to his office and he said that Elton would like to speak to me,” Sulic recalled of his meeting with the dean. “Just 15 minutes later, he called me on my cellphone.”
That call would change the lives of Sulic, 26, and Hauser, 27, Croatian countrymen who perform as 2Cellos and will be bringing their high-energy, impassioned playing style to the Shubert Theatre on Oct. 16.
“He said he wanted to have us join his band and go on tour with them. A few months later, we had rehearsals in London with him and the band and we started touring with them,” Sulic said in a recent phone interview from Las Vegas, where he and Hauser were performing with John at his Million Dollar Piano show at Caesars Palace. “Then a few months later, we started opening his shows as well, which was an incredible experience because that’s where we actually learned the skill of playing in front of so many people.”
John wasn’t the only one whose attention 2Cellos grabbed. Ellen DeGeneres booked them on her show and Sony Masterworks signed them to a record deal.
The duo, who have released two albums and appeared on the popular television show “Glee,” are touring the world with John and, in between gigs with the music legend, performing on their own.
“We are so excited to be touring and showing audiences the versatility of the cello,” said Hauser, who began playing when he was 8. “It is the closest instrument to the human voice and the things you can do on the cello . . . there are endless possibilities.”
Sulic also sang the praises of the instrument he has been playing since he was 5.
“The way you play it is so intimate and so special. You have it between your legs and your whole body resonates with the sound and you feel the vibration,” he said.
While classical music does make the cut on this tour’s set list, the eclectic repertoire Sulic and Hauser perform showcases their mastery of the instruments and reaches far beyond what one would expect of classical musicians.
“We start with an angelic ‘Benedictus’ that is very tender and soft and we end up with ‘Highway to Hell’ from AC/DC,” said Hauser.
Added Sulic: “The show starts very nice and slow and builds gradually. A drummer even joins us, but not with lots of sound at the beginning,” he said. “The intensity grows and everyone goes crazy — but then we play a few songs to calm everyone down before they leave. We don’t want them to drive too fast when they go home!”
Sulic said there is a “special energy” when he and Hauser perform together — especially live onstage. “We get that energy from each other, but also from the audience,” he said.
“We try to connect with the audience as much as we can,” Hauser added. “We feel the energy from the audience and it gives us so much joy and inspiration.”
The two prodigies, both of whom won numerous music competitions and received scholarships, were raised in different cities — Hauser in Pula and Sulic in Dubrovnik. They knew of each other and were, to a degree, competitors. It wasn’t until they were both studying in England (Hauser was at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester) that they got together to perform.
Their first, self-titled album brought another dimension to hit songs, including Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and U2’s “With or Without You.” The 12-track debut was followed by “In2ition,” produced by the legendary Bob Ezrin and released earlier this year.
In addition to upping the
ante on their second album with sleek, rich-sounding Yamaha electric cellos, Sulic and Hauser expand their sound by featuring guest artists — including John on Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well” and Naya Rivera of “Glee” on Muse’s “Supermassive Black Hole.”
Sulic said the past two years have been a whirlwind of opportunity and excitement, and while he and Hauser are exploring various avenues and looking to the future — a future that includes writing music for films and working with other composers — for the time being, they are taking things one day at a time.
“This is all so exciting for us,” he said. “We feel like the luckiest two people in the world.”