Photo: Michael Basu. Blaise Déjardin, Tad McKitterick.
Glam pop and a career in classical music: they prepare you for all sorts of “THAT’LL never happen” scenarios, including 8am photo calls at Symphony Hall in the middle of a torrential downpour. Blaise Déjardin, Boston Symphony Orchestra cellist and one of the founding members of the Boston Cello Quartet, showed up with his performance tux in tow—tails and everything. Tad McKitterick, frontman of Sidewalk Driver, arrived in his typical show gear, complete with a feathered coat, sky-high platform boots and metallic adornments plastered across his forehead. Blaise and Tad got comfortable quickly, posed for a few pictures and slipped past the curious retired crowd, their mouths agape as they filtered into the hall for a an open BSO dress rehearsal. Down the street at Espresso Royale, Blaise had changed back into his street clothes—rehearsing with the BSO later in his tux would’ve been a little awkward—while Tad kept the glitter on his face. And in our hearts.
ON WHY CELLO’S HOT:
Tad McKitterick: So you were here for school?
Blaise Déjardin: Yeah. Yeah, there was a teacher I really liked.
Tad: Was your first exposure to the Boston Symphony Orchestra when you were at school? When did you have aspirations to play with them?
Blaise: Very late. Yeah. I auditioned for the first time and I had two auditions with them. I ended up making it to the final round the first time and they didn’t give me a job. I didn’t expect to get that far, so I said, “I’ll try one more time and if it doesn’t work I’ll go back to France.”
Tad: What would you have done if you had gone back to France?
Blaise: Probably freelance and then see how it goes, I don’t know.
Tad: Did you have to think about it when they offered you the job?
Blaise: No, I took it right away!
Tad: What did your parents think when you told them?
Blaise: I mean, they were glad I had a job…
Tad: [laughs] Right!
Blaise: They were very happy. (Laughs) They’re not very showy, but I’m sure they were happy.
Tad: How long have you been playing with the BSO?
Blaise: Three years. I’m in my fourth year now.
Tad: How does it work—what chair are you?
Blaise: In our section, for cellos, there are eight. The first four chairs are fixed, they stay there—right now I’m in the back.
Tad: When I was in high school, I was in the chorus and we did the Requiem by John Rutter. One of the movements had this really awesome cello solo at the beginning. It sounds like it was written in the ‘70s, so it’s got like this movie soundtrack quality to it, but this cello solo’s awesome. There was this girl who played it and I had such a crush on this girl because of this solo. It’s such a beautiful instrument! And it’s got such a great range.
Blaise: Oh, the range is so good.
Tad: So tell me about the Boston Cello Quartet.
Blaise: There’s a tradition in Europe of having cello ensembles, so I thought, why not do a cello quartet? So we started one.
Tad: Where was your first concert?
Blaise: At Tanglewood. The hall’s pretty big. We played this summer and it was packed. We opened for Train, so we played for a ton of people.
Tad: Were you nervous for that first show you did, because it was your project?
Blaise: Yeah. What if people don’t like it? They did, so it was fine!
Tad: How’d you secure the venue for that? Did you have to send them a CD and tell ‘em you’d draw fifty people and they’d let you play? [Laughs]
Blaise: [Laughs] Someone from the Boston Symphony Orchestra accepted our program.
Tad: What kind of music do you play?
Blaise: We play classical and then we have some jazz or tango pieces. I like to write a medley for the end of the program which makes it through classical and jazz tunes, pop tunes … people can relax and have fun. We do a little bit of comedy onstage.
Tad: What do you mean, comedy?
Blaise: We do a little bit of choreography—
Tad: Do you, like, reach over and play the other guy’s cello?
Blaise: Not yet, but that’s a good idea!
Tad: So where did you find the other cellists?
Blaise: They’re all in the BSO so it was pretty easy. When I got into the orchestra I got in with two other people who were close to my age, so I have those two guys and another cellist. We’re all very excited!
Tad: Now, is it kind of like hard to—this quartet, is it like having four bassists? Is it kind of quirky? I guess is there a bit of a novelty that there are four cellos?
Blaise: The cellos all play different parts so someone’s higher, someone’s lower—just like in a string quartet.
Tad: That’s cool. What kind of pop tunes have you done?
Blaise: We did two songs from Train for the show this past summer, I arranged “Parachute” and “Marry Me.”
Tad: Did you play with them?
Blaise: We played with them for the show, yeah.
Blaise: It was kind of scary—the night before the show the pianist from Train, Jerry, he called me and said “Hey, it’d be great if you played with us!” I was like, “Ah, okay!?” He sent me the original track and I wrote some parts for the next day. They were so nice, and it was so nice to play for that audience. We played some classical music for them and they all loved it. A bunch of blogs said the classical music was a nice touch that night, it was nice.
Tad: I think people like quality, you know? It sounds like you guys are entertaining. It’s not like you’re standing up there and going “You should like us because we’re good.” You put on a bit of a show. Which I don’t agree with. I’m all about the music.
Tad: You sound eager to entertain the audience and I think an audience appreciates that, you know?
Blaise: Yeah. It was refreshing to play for a rock audience, too.
Tad: Was it a totally different energy?
Blaise: Yeah. When we played the medley a lot of people recognized the classical tunes, the William Tell Overture and stuff like that. In May or June, we played on Cape Cod. Some kids came to the concert and wanted us to sign the posters and stuff. It was their first classical concert. And they were so excited! That’s kind of what we love to do—we don’t want to just give people what they want, we want to get people interested in classical music.
Tad: Well the cello’s such a dynamic instrument. It’s not as intimidating as seeing a whole orchestra and it’s probably more personal and fun to watch. It’s more fun—people aren’t just watching a conductor with forty other people onstage.
Blaise: Yeah, it’s fun.
Tad: I’d like to see it. We should do a show together.
Blaise: That works!
Tad: I’ll call you the night before and ask you to arrange some parts. [Laughs] So, you write out all the parts?
Blaise: No—basically, now I write how the program will work, the arrangements. We try to pick some stuff that already exists. This year we premiered a piece by Tatsuro Hoshi, a Japanese composer from Berklee. He wrote a great jazz piece for us. We try to do very different things.
Tad: These cellists are all around your age, right?
Tad: Do some of these older cellists at the BSO, do they have an opinion about the cello quartet?
Blaise: I think they all like it so far.
Tad: Do you have, like, an awkward guy who wants to be a part of it? Like “Heeeey! Wouldn’t it be great if you had a quintet?! Why not?!”
Blaise: [laughs] Maybe. I don’t know. It’s a lot of work, but I’m glad the guys I’ve found are ready to do it.
ON BREAKING STUFF:
Tad: Do people break bows? Does that happen often?
Blaise: … You have to be very angry to do that.
Tad: Stupid bow!
Blaise: Sometimes hairs come off. That happens. They make these carbon fiber bows but you can throw those around the room and they’re fine. I do that in the hall sometimes. [Laughs] … I don’t really.
Tad: Have you ever broken a string while you’re playing?
Blaise: Yeah. Ten years ago, I broke two strings. I broke my D string and I kept playing, and there was a huge D major chord—all the reverberations, I think that’s what made my A and D strings pop out.
Tad: So they just broke?!
Tad: What?! I didn’t think they could break!
Blaise: They do at the bridge, yeah.
Tad: Were you just way into it that day? At that point, you have to improvise—
Blaise: No, at that point you get out and change your string. You wait until the next movement and you drop out.
Tad: How long does it take to change a strange?
Blaise: Oh, not long. Five minutes.
ON LESSONS; PARTYING; YO YO
Blaise: So, speaking of the weather—why did you leave Florida to come up here?
Tad: I came up here to go to school, to go to Berklee. I dropped out to pursue my honorary doctorate. [Laughs] I love the city. I think it’s great. I fell in love with it the day I got here—love the seasons, love the people. Miami’s a fun town and I’m glad I grew up there. Culturally, it’s very unique. It was very reflective in my group of friends and the musicians I played with while I was growing up. It was cool. I’m glad to be from there, but I’m happy I’m living here.
Blaise: Well, the basketball team is better here …. [laughs]
Tad: I’d say so! I’ve adopted almost all of the sports teams except the Patriots. That I can’t do. Don’t judge me. But yeah. I didn’t like Berklee all that much, for me—a lot of it had to do with voice being my instrument. I had come from a classical background and when I started taking voice lessons at Berklee I thought they were so short. When you’re learning how to sing, it’s all about imagining things—you’re trying to manipulate muscles that you don’t see and that you don’t know about, so you almost have to trick your mind into doing it. That part of it I just didn’t like and I was really disappointed, because I was really looking forward to experiencing it. I just felt it was—there are some people maybe it would’ve been better for, but having a classical background, I felt like I wasn’t learning.
Blaise: So then you went out and started your own band?
Tad: Yeah. I had been in a band in high school. We all went to different colleges but we all decided we didn’t like it, so we all left college and got a house in Allston and played in a band there. We all lived together. We’d been best friends since eighth grade, so it was a really weird, fun time. That was pretty cool. I started the band I’m in now about five years ago, and this is my favorite band. I started it with one of the guys that I grew up with, but he moved away. He’s not in it now. It’s really fun, I’m really proud of it. It’s amazing too how different we are now than we were five years ago. It’s just weird. Obviously we have a couple new players who have come in, but we’re better at what we do, you know? We know how to do it. When I started the band I didn’t think I had much to learn, but I’ve learned so much at this point.
Blaise: That’s good!
Tad: I think when you stop learning it’s like, what are you doing? No one’s good enough to not learn anymore. Obviously, being in a rock and roll band there are certain trappings that go along with it. There’s a reputation of crazy, fun, you know, there’s drinking, the girls and all that stuff.
Tad: What? What are you laughing at? There are a few girls! Okay!?. I know I’ve hung out with some classical musicians who are pretty crazy. You would never think it, but—is this true?
Blaise: I don’t know! In our area of work, for us, you don’t really have a choice—you have to have a strong personality. I have to be in a band with a tradition of two hundred years. That’s what happens with the quartet. I’m pretty shy and pretty reserved and relaxed, so people are like, “Wow! I didn’t know you were like that.”
Tad: So what happens after the Symphony? Do you guys hang out?
Blaise: Some people do.
Tad: Is there a reception that happens? Or do you guys just go out?
Blaise: Well, lots of people live in the suburbs so they go back to their families and kids
Tad: What about you and your group?
Blaise: We hang out after our concerts.
Tad: I’ve hung out with some opera singers who are insane. Opera singers! I wanted to be an opera singer for like, a day. Maybe a week. I don’t think I have the technique anymore. I’d like to start taking voice lessons again. Do you?
Blaise: I try when I can. I’m really busy, and it’s hard to find a teacher I really want to study with. I had lots of lessons. When you’re a music student you go all over the place to study—if I can get one or two lessons with someone I want to study with, I’ll do it. I went to England to study for a little break from the orchestra. You have to fight to keep up, keep learning, keep improving, otherwise you get stuck. I don’t want that to happen to me.
Tad: We were talking about how Yo Yo Ma seems to keep it that way, seems to keep it fresh.
Blaise: Yeah, I’m sure he keeps practicing too. [laughs]