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Utah Arts Festival preview: Rocking out on the cello

Published June 14, 2013 2:17 pm

June 20-23 • Portland Cello Project's repertoire includes Kanye, Beck, Brubeck and Bach.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Is the cello a chick magnet?

"Not as much as a guitar," said Douglas Jenkins, leader and arranger of the Portland Cello Project, one of the headlining musical acts at the Utah Arts Festival. The group, known as PCP, performs Sunday, June 23, at 9:45 p.m. on the festival stage.

The cello may be the perfect instrument, though. "It has the range of the human voice, from the low lows of a baritone to the high highs of a soprano," Jenkins said in a recent phone interview. "You can get attached to every single sound you're bringing out of it."

The cellists of PCP bring out a lot of different sounds, as their playlist goes beyond the classical standards to include songs by Radiohead and Kanye West.

The band started in 2007, Jenkins said, with "a confluence of random, serendipitous good events" involving several cellists who were living in the Portland, Ore., area.

They got together to play some music and have a few beers, and one night decided to play at a rock club. They performed some classical works, but the number that got the most response was a rendition of Britney Spears' "Toxic."

They once played A-ha's "Take On Me" at the halftime of a Portland Trailblazers game, and one of their crowd favorites is a version of Outkast's "Hey Ya."

The band's current tour is called "Beck, Brubeck and Bach." The group's repertoire has long included Johann Sebastian Bach and jazzman Dave Brubeck. PCP's arrangement of Brubeck's "Take Five" includes a bit of Lalo Schifrin's "Mission: Impossible" theme, which also was written in 5/4 time.

The group recently recorded an album, "Beck Hanson's Song Reader," with songs taken from a project that Beck published in the online literary magazine McSweeney's. It consisted of an album's worth of songs, but Beck didn't record them — he printed them as sheet music.

"We didn't know what to expect, because we had never heard the songs," Jenkins said.

While purists may scoff at classical musicians playing pop music, Jenkins sees a connection.

"They all speak the same language," he said. "It's all the same 12 notes, it's the same concept of harmony."


Utah Arts Festival

Where • Library Square, 210 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City.

When • Thursday through Saturday, June 20-23.

Hours • Noon to 11 p.m. each day.

Admission • $12 a day for adults; free for kids 12 and under; $6 for seniors 65 and older; $35 for a 4-day pass.

Discounts • $10 opening-day special Thursday only; $6 lunchtime special, Thursday and Friday, noon to 3 p.m.; and a "y'all come back" pass, good for 2-for-1 admission on a return visit, available upon exit.