When it comes to artist development, few acts can tell a story quite like Sampha. Since his internship at his record label, the elusive talent’s achievements include winning the Mercury Prize and working with a litany of stars including Drake, ...
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
Madonna has launched The Celebration Tour at the O2 Arena. Here's a chance to revisit our Hitmakers feature on Hung Up, which features in the greatest hits show's set list.
In 2005, Hung Up not only took her back to the top of the world’s charts, but it made her a fixture on global dancefloors. Co-writer Stuart Price reveals how a night on the M1, a chance Radio 2 play, and a handwritten note saw the Material Girl sample ABBA’s Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)…
When I started doing remixes as Jacques Lu Cont, my French label said [producer/artist] Mirwais was releasing material, and did I want to remix it? I happened to be in Paris so I met him and we clicked right away. I remixed one of his songs, then he called up a few months later and told me he had produced the Madonna album [Music] and she was going to tour it.
He said, “I know you can play, I’d like to have someone who understands musically where I was coming from in the rehearsals.” So I went to LA as keyboard player for her band. As it turned out, it wasn’t working and I was going to leave because they were struggling with the direction. But then she shifted it around and said, “As you understand electronic music, can you help with the direction of the show?”
We weren’t writing, but we had that musical connection. That segued into another tour a few years later, which kind of remixed her songs, and afterwards she said, “We’ve reworked so much old music together, why don’t we rework something new? Let’s start writing!”
Madonna was doing a movie at the time with [film director] Luc Besson, that didn’t materialise, which was going to feature music from different generations – a punk rock era, a ’20s era, and a disco era. So she asked, “Do you have anything that is like ABBA at Studio 54?” Originally, I said no.
However, six months beforehand, I had a DJing residency at a club in Liverpool called The Masque, at the Chibuku Shake Shake night. One night, I was coming back from Chibuku, it was 5am on the M1, I was falling asleep – I wasn’t driving! – and Radio 2 was on. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! started playing, and in that dream state I thought, ‘Wow, that would be a really good sample for a song.’ So just before I went up to play Chibuku again, I quickly hacked the sample into a track that I could play in my DJ set. It was immediate – the whole room felt pretty special. I played it for the next couple of months, but like most DJs, I wore out my records and moved on. So when Madonna mentioned ABBA, I suddenly went, “Well, there is one thing...”
I played her the track, she listened intently, then she just opened her mouth and sang: “Every little thing that you say or do, I’m hung up, I’m hung up on you...” It really happened that quickly. We were in the studio, which was in the attic of my flat in Maida Vale, so I recorded her. Subsequently, the production took some work, but the whole thing about making Confessions On A Dance Floor was that it was such fun. Hung Up really set the tone for that album. In her brilliantly instinctive way, Madonna just pivoted, and instead of doing the movie with loads of sections, she went, “We’re going to make a dance record!”
Madonna is a great enabler of creative freedom
You have to give her credit because dance music was a dirty word in America in 2005, it was not at all on the radio. Did the mixed reaction to [previous album] American Life influence her? It’s a pattern I’ve spotted with many artists that I’ve worked with subsequently. Once someone puts themselves in the freedom zone of saying, “I no longer care how this is going to be received, it feels right,” they tend to be rewarded with a successful record.
The Liverpool track was just three components, ABBA, a filter and a beat! Madonna said, “I need more to go on to make this into a song,” so I just picked up my instruments, and came up with a verse and a bridge structure.
Madonna is a great enabler of creative freedom. We had developed a shorthand on tour, so in the studio we didn’t need to over communicate. The best way to explain our collaboration is how the record says ‘produced by Madonna/Price’, and that’s not because she is just putting her name there. She is as much a visionary as anyone else – I mean, she is the visionary on the record! When she sees the seed of something, she envisions it from beginning to end in a moment. It’s then a case of creating an environment to make it happen.
So our studio days would typically be us working together in the afternoon. Overnight, I would come up with a new song or a template which I would send to her. Then, she would either arrive with something, or she’s very capable of switching on and writing in that moment. There’s a lot to be said for a tireless work ethic and no entourage. It was just two people writing. If you’re focused, you can achieve a lot in a short period of time. I don’t want to reduce the song and say it was easy, but we knew where we wanted to go!
That said, there was no Plan B if ABBA didn’t clear the sample [laughs]. We knew ABBA were reluctant to allow sampling of their work, so Madonna’s manager flew to Stockholm to meet with Benny and Björn at their Polar Studios. She gave them a handwritten letter from Madonna in which she expressed her admiration for their work, and the hope that we could collaborate. What resonated with them, I think, was that we had taken cues from them, but we had tried to move it forward, and they approved the sample that day.
There’s definitely my career pre-Madonna – no pun intended! – and post-Madonna. Hung Up was a nice transition between those two worlds. I went from a background of DJing and remixing into writing and production with this track, and there are times in the studio where people bring it up, so it continues to play a role in my career.
Interview: Paul Stokes
Photo: K Mazur/Getty