If you plan on showing up at Summit High School with your mother, you might warn her that Portland Cello Project is better known for its tour with Buckethead than its arrangements of Beethoven. They don't perform in black. They don't print programs. They won't offer you an intermission. And they have been known to grind on their cellos while performing Salt-n-Pepa's, "Push it."
Perhaps best known for their rendition of Kanye West's and Rihanna's "All of the Lights," this string ensemble's repertoire is vast, genre-bending and clearly unorthodox; there is no style they won't play.
"The main philosophy when I'm making a set for any performance is to make it varied, and confuse the audience as much as possible," explains ensemble leader Douglas Jenkins.
Need video evidence? Check out the YouTube clip of Portland Cello Project performing Britney Spear's "Toxic" with a breathy male guest vocalist, tossing his locks around, singing falsetto and carrying a purse.
PCP, as their fans affectionately call the group, began in 2007 as a loose alliance of cellists who were united by their instruments and their unorthodox approach. According to Jenkins, the ensemble initially formed around the general philosophy of playing music you wouldn't normally hear on the cello. Their first show was at the decidedly non-classical music oriented Doug Fir Lounge.
"We didn't have a name or anything and we never thought we'd do it again, but we did and we kind of evolved into what it is today," says Jenkins.
PCP ranges in size from six cellists to over 30 performance musicians, including horns and percussion when performing in Portland. Jenkins notes that the group is relatively nonhierarchical, with no conductor and no competitions for first chair.
"Everybody has a role and they play it. There's no superstar onstage; everybody is together as a true group, a true ensemble," he explains.
Part of the ensemble's mission is to bridge music communities, and with a performance repertoire consisting of Dave Brubeck, Metallica, Pantera, Bach, ABBA and more, they are living their mission.
"I look for stuff that has a lot of variety that's not just one thing over and over again," Jenkins says. "In classical music you have all these sections of music. There's some pop music that's made the same way. I try to look for stuff like that, where the producer was in a really inspired mood and it's coming through the music. I try to tap into that and take it to another level."
When they aren't interpreting other artists, they're collaborating with a "who's who" of folk and indie rock. Their collaborations include work with folk-legend Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary (another artist who recently came through Bend), The Dandy Warhols, indie pop-folk gem Thao. Recently, PCP worked with indie-rock band Blind Pilot.
In addition to their wide-ranging influences, the members of PCP are classically trained fluid performance artists armed with over 800 songs. This allows them to be flexible with their set list and avoid the trappings of other classical string ensembles, which often perform a rigid program on tour.
"Our repertoire is big so we can feel out the room - what the situation is and what we're going to throw at them to grab their attention," says Jenkins. "The more we perform, the more we have to mix it up. That's kind of one of the nice things about the group, that we don't plan anything ahead of time."
So basically, forget everything you thought you knew about cello performances and you'll be prepared for the Portland Cello Project benefit. If that's not enough to pique your interest, keep in mind that it's for a good cause. Summit High School's Friends of Music program will receive proceeds from the show.
"We're happy to reach out to the community whenever we can and I'm really glad it worked out; the bonus is that it's a bigger stage," says Jenkins, alluding to their sold-out show last December at McMenamins Old St. Francis.
If you were one of the many folks turned away at the door then, this is your chance for cello redemption.
Portland Cello Project
7pm, Saturday, Feb. 11
Summit High School Auditorium, 2855 Clearwater Dr.
$15- portlandcelloproject.com, $20 at door