Fusion is a great thing – usually we think of it when trying that weird new restaurant or when the pantry is looking sparse and you really don’t want to go to Wegman’s. When it comes to music, you can find all kinds. I’d like to highlight some of the coolest classical-pop fusions the internet has to offer.
The Vitamin String Quartet is a music group from LA, known for their string tributes to various rock and pop artists. They aren’t a quartet in the traditional sense, rather a series of arrangements with different composers and musicians all working under the same release label. Starting up in 1999, they’ve since grown to a 261 album discography. “Vitamin String Quartet is about applying rock n’roll attitude to classical technique,” says Tom Tally, a violist and arranger who has performed on and produced over fifty Vitamin String Quartet albums. The VSQ covers all genres, from pop to electronic dance to punk to heavy metal – if you can think of a band, it’s likely the VSQ has covered music by them. Often, they cover music from traditional 4 piece bands – vocals, guitar, bass, and drums – all on strings. What’s remarkable about these arrangements is how recognizable the original material is.
For example, in this cover of Nirvana’s Smells like Teen Spirit (here’s the original if you haven’t heard it), every piece of the original song shines through. The vocal melody is crystal clear, and the rolling layers of the various strings follow the ebb and flow of the song’s progression, translating the grunge and energy of the lyrics without a word spoken. What’s even cooler about VSQ is that they publish all the sheet music for their arrangements, so if you’ve ever wanted to rock out some Aerosmith on your viola, they’ve got you covered.
2CELLOS is the Croatian / Slovenian cello duo of Luka Sulicm and Stjepan Hauser. Both are classically trained (with accolades and accomplishments too long to list), and are veritable rock stars with 4 strings and a bow instead of 6 strings and a pick. The duo first gained notoriety after releasing a music video for their cover of Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal, featuring an intense cello dual between the two musicians.
Even with only 2 musicians, the sound and energy is incredible full, keeping pace with the original piece. Since then, they’ve continued to release produced videos, footage of their live performances and tour the world, filling stadiums with thousands of fans. This performance of Thunderstruck by AC/DC for 50,000 people, featuring pyrotechnics and an amazing drummer, really sells their ability to perform and command an audience. While most of the music they produce are covers, they do compose their own work and they certainly haven’t forgotten their classical roots. Here’s a mashup of Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin and Beethoven’s 5th.
While this piece is a rather irregular performance of both those pieces, it highlights 2CELLOS’ strength of blending the old and the new with a tremendous amount of energy.
While both these examples might be more pop-rock than classical, it’s important that we support acts that blend genres. 2CELLOS or VSQ might serve as a good starting point for someone who always wanted to get into listening to classical music, but maybe felt intimidated or didn’t know where to start. Someone might watch 2CELLOS’ mashup video, enjoy it, and go on to look up an orchestral arrangement Beethoven’s 5th with that same energy and never look back. Or, they might decide to not go any further and stick to what they know, and that’s OK too. Musical experimentation and genre fusion requires a lot of talent and energy, and is often met with resistance or confused looks. I would encourage you to keep an open mind and not be afraid to push the boundaries of your musical tastes – either way, you just might learn something new.