Concert review: The Piano Guys Live in Singapore

Concert review: The Piano Guys Live in Singapore
The Piano Guys, featuring Jon Schmidt on the piano and Steven Sharp Nelson on the cello.

SINGAPORE - Two nights ago, a cello and piano duo played to an audience of close to 5,000 at The Star Theatre. They were neither Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax nor Steven Isserlis and Stephen Hough.

Instead, they were Steven Sharp Nelson and Jon Schmidt.

Who? They are the improbably named The Piano Guys, two married men pushing middle age who look more at home in a human genome lab or FedEx office than on stage.

It all started when Schmidt walked into a piano shop in Utah to practise and its owner Paul Anderson started making videos of him and cellist Nelson. These went viral on YouTube.

They were called The Piano Guys in order to promote the shop.

A quarter of a billion hits later, the duo have become a bestseller in the crossover genre. Purists will not deem them a classical act but who cares?

Their modus operandi is simple: Adapt a popular classical melody, do a cover of Adele, One Direction or U2, sometimes combine thematic elements of a number of songs in a mash-up, throw in comedic schtick, perform with passion and panache, and there you have it.

Hits from their channel and first album were relived, such as Titanium (which uses Faures Pavane), Bourne Vivaldi (adapting a double cello concerto by the Italian), Michael Meets Mozart (two Michael Jackson songs modified as to be almost unrecognisable) and one marrying Dvorak's Largo (Going Home) and Phillip Phillips' Home.

It is said that "great artists steal" but these were no mere copycats. They were intelligent recreations of the friendly and familiar.

Nelson played on three cellos - a classic named Boris, a carbon-fibre model that doubled as percussion instrument, and a skeletal electric called Bruce Lee which had the ability to record and overdub.

This enabled multiple layers of cello playing to be heard simultaneously, essential a virtual cello orchestra.

He was heard solo in Beethoven's 5 Secrets, a play on themes from old Ludwig's Fifth Symphony, partly accompanied by violinists from the United World College. Pianist Schmidt also had his own solo, an original composition Waterfall, with constant crossing of hands which resembled an updated Scarlatti sonata.

That was "how ugly piano-playing guys won the chicks", he jested.

Pachelbel's Canon, the "most boring work for cellists" (as they play the same eight bars ad infinitum) was transformed to a Rock-abel Canon complete with blazing Latin beat.

There was also a video Cello Wars, where two Stevens duelled with bows-turned-light sabres to music from John Williams' music of Star Wars.

The gags and geeky in-jokes flowed unabated and the audience got a glimpse of mash-ups that will end up on the cutting- room floor, including one bringing together Orphan Annie's song and Darth Vader's Imperial March.

Two and a half hours passed all too quickly, and two encores - Bring Him Home from Les Miserables and Elvis Presley's Can't Help Falling In Love - brought about a standing ovation.

If you did not smile, laugh, cry, clap in rhythm or throw up your hands in pure pleasure, thy name is Ebenezer Scrooge.


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