Portland Cello Project at VAC

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I'm an active listener and don't like sitting at shows. And despite a serious love of Bach, this has always made going to the symphony a challenge.

But Portland Cello Project's performance at VAC was riveting from start to finish, even though I was planted firmly in a folding chair.

With a cast of eight cellos and some percussion from Matt Berger of Musée Mécanique, PCP tore through a stylistically varied set of selections from Russian composers, PCP members, Rihanna and Pantera. The song choices were unexpected and the performances deeply moving. Group leader Douglas Jenkins even managed to offer better stage banter than most rock bands, offering asides about their hotel, what it was like to tour with Buckethead and no shortage of jokes about how glad they were to be playing in a bar "that doesn't have a ping-pong table in front of the stage."

Though the performance as a whole was phenomenal, offering all the drama of a symphony with the approachability of a house show, the highlight was a pair of moving collaborations with Sean Ogilvie of Musée Mécanique, who had only been asked to go on tour with PCP the night previous and had arranged the string parts on the drive to Boise.

Hearing about PCP, it's easy to write them off as a novelty act. Especially with some of their choices of cover songs. But seeing them live, feeling the dramatic flow and intensity of their arrangements, the new textures and credibility they bring to pop songs and old lullabies and basking in the sincerity of their quest to take the cello where no cello has gone before, it's pretty hard not to fall in love with music all over again.