Over the years, the Portland Cello Project has developed a three-part philosophy:
1. Bringing the cello to places you wouldn’t normally see it.
2. To play music on the cello that you wouldn’t normally associate with the instrument, alongside music from the Western classical tradition.
3. Build bridges between different musical communities through education, community outreach and collaboration with a myriad of artists.
For the final show in its 2021-2022 performing arts residency and concert series, the Sun Valley Museum of Art (SVMoA) presents the Portland Cello Project and its eclectic sound at Ketchum’s Argyros on Saturday, April 9 at 7:30 p.m.
Kristine Bretall, Director of Performing Arts and Conferences for SVMoA, helped bring the ensemble to the region. This tour, the band pays tribute to Prince with a set called “Purple Reign”.
“They always collaborate with deeply talented musicians, and ‘Purple Reign’ is no exception,” Bretall said. “Singer JANE will be the lead singer of this show and her voice will amaze you.”
Since 2009, the alt-classical group has grown into a nationally recognized performing, recording and educational entity. Interweaving pop music with the classical canon, their repertoire spans over 1,000 pieces of music.
They performed in punk rock clubs, symphony halls, wild dance parties, intimate gatherings in private residences and Chicago’s Millennium Park.
In another act of subversion, this band incorporates non-traditional instruments like keyboard and bass guitar. Tyrone Hendrix plays drums with the Portland Cello Project.
“It seems like we’re breaking all these rules, but I don’t call that breaking the rules, I call it breaking the barriers,” Hendrix said. “Music is music.”
“Purple Reign” pays tribute to the work of the late great prince with rich compositions.
“Prince was a musician first, not an artist,” Hendrix said. “He believed in live instrumentation.”
Hendrix played with the revolutionary legend himself.
“There are certain nuances as a musician that I can hear,” Hendrix said. “He was also good at all musical instruments.”
Hendrix has also performed with Stevie Wonder among many others.
“If you’re not ready to be open-minded and collaborate with someone, you’ll be stuck and outdated in music,” Hendrix said. “We can’t know everything, so you have to be ready to collaborate with other people, other genders. It just helps you mentally.
The Portland Cello Project has formed relationships with artists such as alternative rock stars The Dandy Warhols; Corin Tucker of rock pioneers Sleater-Kinney; Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary; soul singer Ural Thomas; and genre musician Jolie Holland. They also teamed up with other cellists, such as Ben Sollee, Maya Beiser and Zoe Keating.
“When you collaborate with someone, you learn their mindset and their way of seeing music,” Hendrix said.
Over the years, the Portland Cello Project has covered everything from Pantera, Taylor Swift and Elliott Smith to Bach, Rossini and Saint-Saëns.
They once recorded a version of a Jay-Z and Kanye West song called “That’s My Sandwich” – the original title didn’t use the word “sandwich”. Hendrix prefers the studio to live performance.
“There’s a lot of magic behind the scenes that you don’t see,” Hendrix said.
Playing everything by ear, he never learned to read or write music. He grew up with the gospel. When his school’s music programs were cut in second grade, he learned to arrange different genres through the church orchestra.
“At church, we cover everything,” Hendrix said.
As part of SVMoA’s artist residency, the Portland Cello Project will work with students from Wood River High School and Middle School. These programs are free to students or schools and are created to increase interest, enthusiasm and access to the performing arts.
“The more you challenge yourself, the better,” Hendrix said. “Never get to a point in your music career where you feel like you can’t learn. Once you’ve done that, you might as well stop playing. I’m still in learning mode all the time. ￼