Stjepan Hauser continues to take the world of classical music by storm. But the cellist, known professionally as Hauser, is dreaming even bigger and broader than that. In the coming weeks, he’ll be releasing a festive record, Christmas (out October 27), and embarking on his Rebel With A Cello tour, which includes a headline show at London’s O2 Arena (November 12).
The 37-year-old, who came to fame as part of 2Cellos alongside fellow Croatian cellist Luka Sulic, has been dubbed ‘The Bad Boy’ of classical music for his reluctance to adhere to its long-held rules and traditions. True to form, this year he’s appeared on the latest U2 album, Songs Of Surrender, adding sensual tones to classic tracks including Where The Streets Have No Name. He also even made an appearance on the latest series of Love Island.
So what’s next?
“Wembley Stadium?” he ponders aloud. “And then the rest of the world!”
Here, in the lead-up to his new album, Music Week meets Hauser to talk performing at The O2, why classical music will always be important and working with U2…
Your Rebel With A Cello tour includes a show at The O2 Arena. As someone who performed in The Greenwich Trio, hitting North Greenwich must be a big deal?
“I can’t believe it! I used to study in London, in Greenwich, and I would often see The O2 across the river and I could not even dream that one day I would be playing that venue with a cello. It’s absolutely insane but at the same time, that’s what I’ve been aiming for my whole life.”
How big did you dare to dream when you were growing up?
“I was always thinking out of the box. I always saw myself as something and wanted to perform in front of thousands and thousands of people, sharing beautiful music with them. I wanted to make something revolutionary, something new, something fresh and crazy.”
Do you remember the first time you could see your cello playing eliciting an emotional response from another person?
“Every time I was on stage, it felt natural. Even in high school, even as a student, I felt this amazing connection with the audience. But this is also why very often I was criticised. Classical music is full of rules about how you are supposed to play and how you are supposed to behave. I was always ignoring all these rules and doing it my way. Now I’m so happy that I have all the freedom to create the show that I want, and nobody is going to tell me what I can or cannot do. This is why I have great success with the audience – they can feel this connection, passion, the love I give to them and the love they give back to me. That’s why I can play The O2 Arena now.”
As a cellist, how important has it been for you to refresh people's ideas of what the instrument is capable of?
“I’ve always thought the cello is capable of doing so many different things, not just playing one kind of music. People are used to seeing a cello in a string quartet or a symphony or a recital, but I’ve always thought of the cello as something that can make miracles. I was frustrated by the fact that the cello wasn’t the centre of attention. It was always a background instrument. That pissed me off. Basically, the cello is the coolest instrument in the world. That’s why I decided to show it in so many different ways, starting with 2Cellos, where we created a crazy rock show and toured arenas all over the world. Now I’m showing the cello in many other different lights – as a more sensual, romantic instrument, and I do this crazy Latin party as a part of the show. No one would have thought this would have been possible a few years ago.”
In the long-term, classical music is something that always finds its way and always wins in the end
Who provided the non-classical inspirations to your non-traditional approach?
“For many, many years, maybe 25 years, I was focused on classical music only. I was narrow-minded, stuck, which was good because I had to develop myself as a cellist and a musician first. So I was admiring great cellists like [Mstislav] Rostropovich and Jacqueline Mary Du Pré, they were my heroes. Then I expanded to pianists, so I started listening to great pianists, then I expanded to violinists, to conductors and onwards. This gave me influences from broader circles, but then at one point I decided to do something totally new. So I started getting influences from Michael Jackson, Elvis, AC/DC, the Rolling Stones. Then, later on, it was crooners like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. As I got older, I was getting more and more inspiration from outside of classical music. That’s what shaped who I am today.”
What do you see as the biggest obstacles for classical music in the age of streaming?
“In the long-term, classical music is something that always finds its way and always wins in the end. It always has an audience and is going to last forever, because it’s the foundation of all music. Trends come and go, popping up and gaining instant popularity, then they’re soon replaced by something else. But classical music is always there, which is great because it means I’m going to have a long and steady career, not having to depend on the next hit on the radio. I’m lucky that I’m playing music that is so universal, so I get the same reaction wherever I go. This is a blessing, because I’m not limited by language and there are no barriers. That’s the advantage of instrumental music.”
Do you feel that classical music gets enough love on streaming platforms?
“I don’t even know what the situation is and I don’t think about it much. I’m choosing the most beautiful popular melodies from classical music and playing them in a new way. What I realised is that very often, classical music is presented in a boring way. I think if you present it with charisma and personality, then everybody will love it.”
Tell us about your appearance on Love Island. What appealed to you about doing it?
“I’d never watched the show, I don’t watch much TV and many movies as I’m focused on my music most of the time. But I heard about Love Island and I thought, ‘If it’s good exposure that allows me to share my beautiful and romantic music, then great. Love Island sounds romantic, so I thought it would be a good combination. Behind the scenes, it’s not really as glamorous as people see on the TV, but it was a nice location. Someone has to bring back those melodies to the younger generation, and they have to be educated, so we have to find ways to do it.”
How big a part does mixing genres play in getting younger generations enthusiastic about classical music?
“I don’t think mixing genres is the key, it’s [about] the way you perform. If you are charismatic on stage, then people are going to respond to that. If you feel authentically you want to mix genres, then of course you should do it, but you shouldn’t just do it for the sake of doing it. Many people are doing those kinds of experiments because they think it’s the right formula. The right formula is being yourself and being unique.”
You’re releasing a Christmas album. What was the appeal of making that?
“I loved making it! Those are the arrangements that I love and I feel we’re missing these days. To have a full symphony orchestra of real musicians, full of those romantic melodies, brings you back to golden days. I wanted to give that back to the world, and to a younger generation. Christmas is a time full of tradition and I wanted to keep those traditions alive in the best way possible.”
You worked with U2 on their latest album. You covered their music in 2Cellos, so that must have been an incredible full-circle moment?
“They were a big and important influence when we started 2Cellos and we used to open the show with their song, Where The Streets Have No Name, and later in the show we’d do With Or Without You. When they, these heroes, invited me to be a guest on their album, it was mind-blowing. They knew of our arrangements as 2Cellos, then later came to know what I was doing, so that’s how it came to happen. Suddenly I was there in their villa in France, jamming with them, which was surreal. It was very spontaneous too. I was supposed to go and record one song but ended up playing on four or five. Was there any partying? No, we were focused on making music [laughs].”
As a classical musician, what’s the greatest compliment someone can pay to your music?
“That it moves their soul and when they hear it, they know it’s me performing it.”
WORDS: JAMES HICKIE