Pop goes Mozart: New marriage of classical and rock

Young serious musicians are blending classical and rock to broaden their appeal. And it helps if they look good

In a trendy bar in South London golden-skinned lovelies in flip-flops, and young men in open-necked shirts, are sipping drinks as they wait. Toni Castells, a one-time classical musician, is about to perform his debut album under the name of Momo live for the first time. He approaches the microphone and announces that the album is dedicated to love, in particular his personal quest to find the true variety. By the end of the set the wait has been more than worth it. In fact, I would happily wait several hours to see it all over again.

Castells, 31, with his trendy band of followers and good looks, is not your usual classical musician. The album, Unharmed, is a blend of chill-out electronica, dramatic strings and pop and opera voices. His ensemble features a string quartet – two violins, a viola and a cello – while Castells plays the electric guitar. Female vocalists, some pop, one operatic, provide the lyrics. One of them is the comely Roberta Howett, an X Factor finalist. Castells, from Barcelona, who composed all the tracks, intersperses them with spoken lines of poetry. It should go down a storm this summer in Ibiza.

"The fusion between classical and pop is not intentional," he says the following day, looking like Michelangelo's David, with his unshorn curls. "It's not conscious at all. It's a language I know. This is how it flows into me. I start writing songs with piano or guitar. With the piano there's possibly a more classical angle to it, then things come very naturally. To add guitars to a string quartet is so natural to me. Some people think classical music is about really boring scores. It's not like that at all. Most of the songs of yesterday are harmonically really simple, like pop music. Most of Mozart's harmony songs were three or four chords. It's the same with Puccini's operas. He's a genius, but it's extremely simple. It's like the pop music of his time. People may say my work is too intellectual, but what's intellectual about love?"

Castells started his classical music training at the age of five playing guitar, piano and clarinet, urged on by his mother, a devoted opera fan. He joined several youth orchestras either as a guitar soloist or as an instrumentalist, and toured Europe several times. At the age of 12, he formed a pop/rock band called Korrefok and in 1997 Korrefok became Herzia. Spain's music magazine Popular 1 said of their debut album: "If there be justice, Herzia's Coses Que Passen should become the most important pop release this year."

In 2000 he moved to London and worked as a sound engineer for Jose Maria Cano, of the multi-million-selling Spanish pop group Mecano. He then spent four years as a recording engineer at the Royal College of Music, and now lectures in music technology. He hopes to get a record deal – he has released Unharmed on his own label – which would free up more time for his music.

So why choose love as a theme? "Love is the energy that powers everything. It's so powerful it can also destroy things. Some people are in love with their land and they fight to their death for it," he says. So has he succeeded in his personal quest to find true love? "No," he admits. "Possibly I'm going to find it in a person or in my music. I think it's good that I haven't found it yet."

Castells is not the only classical musician causing a stir amongst younger listeners. Gardar Cortes, 33, who, according to Newsweek, has the "voice of Pavarotti and the looks of Brad Pitt" (there is no resemblance) is currently setting ears and hearts a flutter. His debut album, Cortes, went straight in at No1 in the classical charts, outselling Pavarotti. It is a colourful mix including "Nessun Dorma", "Hunting High and Low" (which was a hit for the Norwegian band A-Ha in the 1980s), a duet with Katherine Jenkins and some Icelandic numbers.

The tenor is the biggest selling artist of all time in his native Iceland. He was a guest tenor on Katherine Jenkins's autumn tour, and is supporting Lesley Garrett later this year.

Going straight to number one and outselling Pavarotti was a huge surprise. "It was great, really," he says on the phone from Reykjavik. "Who would think an unknown artist in the UK with a debut album in this genre of music would do that?"

His Icelandic father was once a world class tenor, but got so homesick touring that he founded the Icelandic Opera, the Reykjavik Symphony Orchestra and the Reykjavik Academy of Singing. Gardar's English mother is a concert pianist and his brother and sister are both classical singers. In 1999 he won the lead role of Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre in London's West End. He then won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music and worked all over Europe playing lead tenor roles.

"Hunting High and Low" was a curious choice considering its associated 1980s naffness. "It's a good song and we thought it would work well with a classical makeover," he says. "I'm trying to introduce classical music to the masses. I'm hoping an album with more crossover music will maybe catch people's eyes and ears more than if I had done an album with just popular arias."



'Unharmed' by Momo is out on Instant Attraction Records. 'Hunting High and Low' is out on Believer Music

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions