For its June 27 performance at the Redstone Room, the Portland Cello Project will be featuring the music of Beck (Hanson), (Dave) Brubeck, and (Johann Sebastian) Bach. Alliteration aside, the grouping of a contemporary rock artist, a jazz icon, and a Baroque composer is relatively natural for an ensemble known for aggressively omnivorous appetites.
“It really started with the Beck,” said Doug Jenkins, the Portland Cello Project’s artistic director, in a recent phone interview. “When we heard last August that he was going to put out an album of sheet music rather than actually recording an album, we got really excited, because it just seemed like it was right up our alley – to grab that and play with it and adapt it to our larger orchestral ensemble. And so we booked the show immediately. ... It was coming out December 7, so we booked the shows on December 13 [and] 14 – even having no idea what we were going to get. ... We got the music, and we basically camped out 24/7 to learn all 20 songs and get them all ready to go for the performances. ... They’re wonderful songs. ... We recorded them right away, too, a week later, and then put out that CD.
“That was a month or two after Dave Brubeck passed away. [He actually died December 5.] We did kind of a tribute to Dave Brubeck at the same time. And Brubeck and Beck, they actually went together really well. The kind of old-timey feel of the Beck songs from the Song Reader, and of course Brubeck is just wonderful, timeless stuff. ... And then the Bach just seemed like, as a cellist, a logical thing to throw onto it.”
Brubeck channeled Bach in his “Brandenburg Gate,” and one instrumental piece from Song Reader has a classical vibe, Jenkins said. So “there’s already this reaching among the composers who obviously had no idea what we were ever going to do with it. We can find a lot of middle ground, a lot of places to connect things together.”