Four cellists play Ravel’s Bolero on one cello, in acrobatic classical masterpiece

19 March 2021, 17:17

Bolero on just one cello
Bolero on just one cello. Picture: YouTube / Wiener Cello Ensemble 5+1

By Kyle Macdonald

An orchestral classic becomes an acrobatic masterpiece for four cellists, and a single instrument.

Maurice Ravel’s Bolero has long been a test of skill, nerve and endurance for snare drummers, who are required to maintain a steady, repetitive beat for the whole 15-minute piece.

On top of that iconic rhythm, instruments from flutes to trombones take turns in solos. The melody is passed around before all erupts throughout a full orchestra. It's considered a masterpiece of inventive, colourful orchestration.

Read more: The 15 most famous tunes in classical music >

But four cellists have decided to turn the usual symphonic setting on its head. They've dispenced of all other instruments and set about turning Ravel's earworm into a masterpiece for solo cello.

One cello, and four cellists, you might correctly note. Important snare drum duties are taken by one player, who bows below the bridge. Pizzicato, fingering and bowing responsibilities are shared by others.

Naturally, there's a lot of competition for space around the lone instrument, leading to as much a physical spectacle as a musical one.

Let the fun commence:

The musicians call themselves Wiener Cello Ensemble 5+1, and when they're not performing string-based acrobatics, they are six cellists from the ranks of the Vienna Philharmonic.

There's more inventive, confounding, gymnastic fun on their YouTube channel. Do take a look.