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Portland Cello Project plays Mesa Art Center March 21 & 22

Doug Jenkins has been with The Portland Cello Project since their first rehearsal. His fame-gaining, genre-mixing musician friends and he will play two completely different shows at Mesa Arts Center next weekend. From Portland, Oregon, the group’s home base, he visited yesterday by phone about how a handful of classically trained cello players are revolutionizing the way musical excellence is offered and received across the country.

Mesa Arts Center welcomes two evening concerts by Portland Cello Project, March 2014
Jason Quigley

"It started with not much of a plan or a goal," Jenkins began about Portland Cello Project's 2007 genesis. "We just wanted to place classical music in alternative venues. We were putting classical in rock clubs. Then we thought, 'Hey, let's invite our friends, be the classical guys that back them up."

Portland Cello Project was in on the ground floor of music genre hopping that's taking the internet and concert halls by storm. "The thing is, they[straight-jacketed, tightly defined genres] have so much more in common than they have separating them. Good music is good music. The same core elements apply to punk rock and classical symphonies," Jenkins observed.

Friday night in Mesa will be all about covering Radiohead, the English progressive alternative rock band. Jenkins said, "I love playing their music. Radiohead is so orchestral. [Portland Cello Project] gets to flesh it out and make it as lush as possible." 'Paranoid Android' is a number Jenkins looks especially forward to playing that night (think George Durham in stereo!).

“You can’t get much more genre-bending than Bach and Brubeck and [singer-songwriter] Beck Hansen” heaped into one night, Jenkins chuckled about Saturday’s upcoming show. In addition to leaping effortlessly from century to century, Portland Cello Project will spotlight 'Denmark,' a composition by their own Gideon Freudmann.

A revolving door of other famous instruments and vocalists, plugged and unplugged, has glided alongside Portland Cello Project at various intervals in their young career. Their versatile music represents entities from folk-hubs like Patti King, who is a featured folk singer at this weekend's concerts, and Horsefeather's Laura Gibson to pop-world covers like Kanye West (Jenkins himself arranged his 'All of the Lights') and JayZ .

"We're made up of five or six full-time freelance musicians, and change ourselves out based on strengths and who is available for different concerts," Jenkins said. Their stage setup ranges from the very simple (4 to 6 cellos), to the all-out epic (which has included 12 cellos playing with full choirs, winds, horns, and numerous percussion players).

While the goals of the group have evolved over the years, the group's current philosophy according to their website is to:
1. "Bring the cello to places you wouldn't normally hear it."
2. "Play music on the cello you wouldn't normally hear played on the instrument."
3. "Build bridges across all musical communities by bringing a diverse assortment of musical collaborators on stage."

The Portland powerhouse, ever blurring musical lines and perceptions, has amassed an eclectic repertoire numbering in excess of 800 pieces to date. Reinforcing his original stance about all good music being worthy of recognition, Jenkins closed saying of Portland Cello Project's core musicians, "Nobody's left classical music, it's more that we're expanding."

-Jennifer Haaland

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