Since its inception in 2007, Portland Cello Project has won fans over with its genre-blurring performances. The group, along with Emily Wells, will play at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at Sophia’s Thai Kitchen in downtown Davis. Tarina Westlund/Courtesy photo

Local News

Portland Cello Project brings classical music to the masses

By From page A9 | May 17, 2012


Who: Portland Cello Project

When: 9:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Sophia’s Thai Kitchen, 129 E St., downtown Davis

Tickets: $7 at the door for patrons 21 and older; (530) 758-4333

Classical music fans chanting “we love PCP” might seem strange, until you realize they’re referring to the Portland Cello Project.

Since its inception in 2007, Portland Cello Project has won fans over with its genre-blurring performances. The group, along with Emily Wells, will play at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at Sophia’s Thai Kitchen, 129 E St. in Davis. This 21-and-over show costs $7 at the door.

Portland Cello Project’s mission is to bring cello music to places you normally wouldn’t hear it, from sports bars to punk clubs. To play music not normally heard on cello, from Pantera to Kanye West. To collaborate with a wide array of artists such as Peter Yarrow, Mirah and The Dandy Warhols.

I recently spoke with PCP founder Douglas Jenkins, who was on the road traveling to Wisconsin.

“When I get back to Portland it will be cold and rainy,” Jenkins said. “So I’m enjoying the heat.”

“Then you’ll love Davis,” I said.

Portland Cello Project has more than 800 songs in its repertoire.

“Everyone’s classically trained and can sight-read,” Jenkins said.

Do they take requests?

“We would if we could but we can’t carry enough music. A couple players and I read off an iPad. Everyone else says it’s too small or bad for their eyes,” Jenkins said. “A lot of stuff we only performed once and won’t perform again.”

PCP’s stage show has ranged from a simple four-cello combo to an epic symphony of 12 cellos, a full choir, winds, horns and numerous percussion players.

“Right now we have eight musicians,” Jenkins said. “We’re traveling in a big van.”

Do they ever get on each other’s nerves?

“We’ve been doing it long enough to know when to give each other personal space. This group is pretty weathered at touring and really likes it. We don’t mind 10-hour drivers and we get along really well.”

How did Portland Cello Project begin?

“It started randomly in Portland,” Jenkins explained. “A bunch of us just moved there and we were invited to a friend’s house to play some classical music. We thought, ‘Why not take it to the bars?’ ”

They thought their first show at The Doug Fir Lounge was a one-off, but they booked another gig and another.

“The group evolved, playing music you don’t normally hear on a cello.”

The first pop song Jenkins scored out was Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” “The audience loved it,” he said. “It was so obviously a good idea, I knew we had to continue.”

Has the popularity of the television show “Portlandia” helped Portland Cello Project?

“I think so. Portland happens to be in our name, too,” Jenkins said, laughing. “Actually, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein have come to our shows. They’ve been supportive. They said on the Portlandia blog that our thing is the best thing in Portland with a capital T.

“Before ‘Portlandia,’ people would come up after a show and ask, what’s Portland like? Now they ask, so Portland’s like this, right?” he laughed. “Everyone else is the expert now.”

Jenkins loves the diversity of touring: “We’re playing in a dive bar one night and a symphony hall the next.”

Does he have a preference?

“I prefer the intimate environment. The bar shows are fun and higher-energy. The mid-size theater shows are cool, too. Symphony halls are great and beautiful but you feel disconnected from the audience.

“For a group whose mission is to break down those barriers and build bridges to the audience, that’s something to overcome,” he said. “I talk a lot at the symphony shows to try and connect with the audience.”

Jenkins is looking forward to the Davis show.

“We’ll be at a symphony hall in Santa Rosa the night before,” he said. “Sophia’s Thai Kitchen will be a nice, happy conclusion to our tour.”

— Reach Landon Christensen at [email protected]

Landon Christensen

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