SUNDAY TIMES - Cape trio is rocking the 'classic pop' thing with electric cellos
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Sunday Times Entertainment By Leigh-Anne Hunter, 2017-05-12 00:00:00.0

Cape trio is rocking the 'classic pop' thing with electric cellos

A touch of the steampunk was brought to Rosanthorn's video for 'The Parting'.
Image: Supplied

Cape trio Rosanthorn’s electric strings would make Vivaldi gulp, writes Leigh-Anne Hunter

There will be mutterings. An electric cello? Vivaldi's wig would wobble. Anjulie Nock, of Cape Town electric trio Rosanthorn, laughs. "I think classical composers would have loved to access today's technology. They might have had a bit of fun."

The steampunk-esque video for one of the group's original works, The Parting, plays up the futuristic theme. Nock, Dorette Roos and Carol Thorns play their red electric cellos inside a rusted, disused train.

"We got up at 3am to shoot it," Roos says. The wind picked up and blew back their tulle skirts. I mention it because it's a wonderful thing to watch and to hear; a memorable entry point to the drama of their music.

Rosanthorn (a combination of their names) is just a year old and launching its first EP.

They're statuesque and toned (Roos on the subject of beauty: "We're going for a classy edge; there's enough sexy out there"). They each learnt how to hold a cello - with ramrod backs - as children. With a basis in acoustic cello, they have their bows in both worlds. "I try to spend time with both of my cellos," says Roos.

Hers is somewhat of a bipolar existence, says the part-time cellist rock star, who's played for the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra since 2008. "It's two different worlds. But I love the new dimension this brings." Nock is a music teacher.

The ensemble is the latest project under Thorns's company, Red Cello Productions, which includes ''music concepts" such as Afro-electro group Coda Africa, nominated in 2014 for an All Africa Music Award.

"The Bubble" is another. It's a giant transparent sphere, inside which Rosanthorn members perform on occasion as soloists. (Nock says she enjoys it because it prevents people from talking to her while she's trying to concentrate.)

Thorns, just back from Dubai - she performs around the globe frequently - says the inspiration for her company came from Vanessa-Mae. "She was the first performer to cross the classical-contemporary divide."

Thorns saw how the cello took a back seat in chamber and orchestra music, and made it her "mission" to bring this "overlooked instrument" to the fore - by reinventing it.

The electric cello has allowed for more diverse collaborations across a number of genres, says Thorns, who's performed on electric cello with the likes of Arno Carstens.

WATCH the video for Rosanthorn's song, The Parting

 

Traditionally the cello plays a bass line - ''the deep sad sound of the cello", author Jay Woodman called it. ''But it actually is one of the instruments with the widest range, and audiences are often amazed to hear this in our music," says Nock.

It is music which spans classical and original compositions and also covers of songs by modern artists - Imogen Heap and Sia, to name two.

"It's not often we sit still and listen to modern music," says Nock. "And that's what the cello brings, because it's such a moving sound. You can really lose yourself in it.

"We pick songs that have meaning for us, to make an impact. We want people to feel moved and refle ct."

As Katherine Jenkins, a popular opera classical-crossover singer, once said: "Too many people are snooty about classical. If [crossover] makes the music accessible to more people, then great. Stuff the critics."

But it's a sensitive area. "The classical pop thing can easily go wrong," says Nock. "We want to treat the cello with integrity, to respect our musical roots."

Nock, whose experience includes playing the cello with the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company, says that she wants to show her students "what's possible, once you have your classical training".

She composed two songs on their EP. Night Journey, she says, has a Game of Thrones feel. I listened to it after sunset and it had the mood of the dark grey sea outside my window.

The second, Umdaniso Dolore, is a cross between an African dance and tango. When they play it, people stomp, or click their fingers. "Whatever they feel," Nock says.

Heavens. What would Vivaldi say?

Rosanthorn perform at the Youngblood Gallery in Cape Town on May 17. To book, call 087-806-5856 or email info@foodlab.co.za

This article was originally published in The Times.