Salt-n-Pepa’s No. 1 hit “Push It” doesn’t have a cello part … right?
Well, for members of the Portland Cello Project, that late-’80s rap song not only could have a cello part, it is perfect for the cello.
Portland Cello Project will be opening Millennium Park’s Dusk Variations, a series of performances that merges jazz, pop and rock with classical music.
Lacey Capps, a program coordinator for Millennium Park, is the brains behind the series, which is back for a second season.
“We wanted to pull in people from the younger demographic,” Capps said, “which is why we added the pop music element to challenge what most people consider to be classical. It is supposed to be cool, quirky and fun.”
Doug Jenkins, 34, is the artistic director of the Portland Cello Project, which formed in 2007 when a group of classically trained cellists came up with their own offbeat idea.
“Myself and the couple cellists that there were in town used to get together and play classical music, but we all played other types of music to pay the bills,” Jenkins said.
“Someone said, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if we played this kind of music, Bach and Beethoven, at a rock club?’ — and we did.”
That first performance was strictly classical, but the group has since branched out into playing pop, rock and jazz — all on the cello.
“Our philosophy is to bring the cello to unexpected places and to play music not normally heard on the cello,” Jenkins said. “We play pop, rock, metal; whatever will confuse and delight the audience the most.”
Capps said that she found the cello group and most of the other acts by looking at her iPod.
“I chose some of the acts that are going to play in the series from groups that I listen to personally, like the Portland Cello Project,” Capps said.
“The fact that you can see them in a punk club one night and a symphony hall the next is truly representative of what this series is all about.”
Portland Cello Project boasts a revolving cast of about 25 cellists. On the roster for Millennium Park are six musicians who will collaborate with indie rockers the 1900s, a Chicago band.
“We never repeat the same show,” Jenkins said. “We mix it up as much as possible. We will play something classical, then cover Pantera’s ‘Mouth For War,’ then bring a guest singer on stage and finish with more instrumental stuff.”
Last week, Portland Cello Project released “Thousand Words,” their third CD, which is entirely instrumental. Despite its large repertoire, the group’s most requested song is “Toxic” by Britney Spears. Apparently, even Spears sounds good when played on cello.
Jenkins said the group has been preparing for the summer festival season for a while.
“Our show will be the weirdest and biggest variety of songs you will hear,” Jenkins said. “We really pride ourselves on being the most unique set in whatever series we are playing.”