BSO cellists break out with new quartet, fresh approach
The kicks are never easy. Yes, the performers are professional musicians, members of one of the world’s greatest orchestras, but those few moments of the “Can-Can,” for all the joy they bring those watching, demand coordination beyond what’s usually required of the cello section in Symphony Hall.
“Maybe it’s just me,” says Adam Esbensen. “I just can’t get my arms and legs to do different things.”
It’s not just you, says his colleague, Alexandre Lecarme.
“You have to balance with one leg and kick with the other,” he laughs. “It does require some balance and some practice.”
The Boston Cello Quartet wouldn’t have it any other way. Mahler. Mozart. French dance-hall jams. It’s all in the group’s bag of musical tricks. On a recent afternoon, the four players — all members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra — rehearse in a room inside Symphony Hall. In their regular gigs, they’re looking forward to playing Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky with guest conductor Andris Nelsons, in a concert series that runs through Tuesday. But on Friday night, the Boston Cello Quartet plays a sold-out gig at the Revere Hotel on Stuart Street to celebrate the release of its first CD, “Pictures.”
The performance will include Mozart and Mussorgsky as well as cellist Blaise Dejardin’s 13-minute medley that includes Jacques Offenbach’s accompaniment to the “Can-Can” and an improvisational 12-bar blues during which the cellist puts down his bow, reaches into his pocket, and pulls out a harmonica.
“We’re really open to anything,” says Dejardin. “The only thing I won’t do is take my shirt off in concert. That’s not something you want to see.”
In person, the members of the Boston Cello Quartet laugh easily together, embrace humor — beyond the leg kicks, they throw other physical flourishes into their act — but also take music seriously. While many BSO players have chamber groups, they note that this is the first cello quartet affiliated with the orchestra. They also take pride in the idea that they are all capable of playing lead. That’s notable because often, in other cello quartets, one player is the soloist and the others follow.
“For us, every cellist can take the tough parts,” says Dejardin.
While other cello quartets are rare, they do exist. Dejardin knows of two German groups, Quattrocelli and Rastrelli. The former plays mainly movie themes and also stages comedy; the latter, light classics and jazz.
The musicians of the Boston Cello Quartet met — where else — in the BSO’s cello section. The French-born Lecarme, 35, joined the BSO in 2008. Romanian Mihail Jojatu, 36, has played in the orchestra since 2002 and counts Dinu Lipatti, the Romanian pianist-composer who died at just 33 of Hodgkin’s disease, as one of his musical heroes. American Esbensen, 36 and in his fifth season with the BSO, offers that he’s a big Van Halen fan, though, he notes, not after David Lee Roth left the band. And then there’s Dejardin, the youngest member at 28, but considered by the group to be its leader.
Born in France, Dejardin loves Beethoven. At home, though, he listens mainly to jazz and blues — Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, and Roy Hargrove, to name a few.
What the four share is a love for the cello.
“I do not know any other string instrument that can do what a cello can,” says Jojatu. “The range is the closest to the human voice. It can sound like a double bass and it can sound like a violin.”
The Boston Cello Quartet made its debut in Ozawa Hall during the summer of 2010. Since then, it’s played eight to 10 shows a year, from gigs in high school to an August 2011 performance opening for Train at Tanglewood. During that performance, the cellists also accompanied the rock band on several songs.
And as much as they’re open to experimenting, the members take pride in their ability to tackle serious music, as well.
“We looked at what other groups were doing and found that most cello groups were mostly doing fun music,” says Dejardin. “Sort of what we do in the medley. Some groups do only that. I thought that being in the BSO with a long tradition of playing great classical music, that gave us a unique chance.”
To that end, they have a repertoire that ranges from Bach and Dvorak to Chick Corea and Astor Piazzolla. Esbensen says that Lecarme, the Frenchman with the thick, dark hair, is easily the most intense.
“He seems really laid-back when you first know him but then he gets into these situations where he gets under pressure and he goes for it,” says Esbensen. “If anything is going to get thrown during a rehearsal, maybe a metronome or tuner, it’s going to be him.”
“He mentioned the metronome?” says Lecarme, pausing. “It’s because I get angry with my own playing. I get frustrated with my own playing. Believe me I’ve done much worse than that.”
During last week’s rehearsal, nothing was thrown. The quartet played Dejardin’s medley, a 13-minute mash-up that includes excerpts from more than a dozen different pieces, from Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 to Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” to the theme music for the video game Tetris. There’s also the blues progression, played in G, during which Dejardin pulls out a harmonica and channels his Charlie Musselwhite.
“That’s the stuff that makes it fun for us,” says Esbensen. “We weren’t sure what to expect, but people really like it. And it’s nice to hear actual sounds from the audience. People laughing and they even say stuff occasionally while we’re playing. They’ve clapped while we’re playing. It’s a nice feeling to have some kind of interaction from the crowd.”
They love playing in the BSO and know that the quartet is probably never going to support them financially. (They paid out of their own pockets to self-produce the debut CD.) But they get something else.
“You can be allowed to be yourself a little bit more,” says Lecarme. “In the orchestra, you have to blend in. It’s very fun for that very reason, it’s liberating.”
The Friday gig will mark the release of the quartet’s first album, which will be available to the public Feb. 5 in stores, on Amazon.com and iTunes, and then there’s a February concert in Newton and a March performance in Wayland.
“We’re just having too much fun to stop now,” said Dejardin.