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Young cellists rock with Sir Elton on his latest world tour

In January, Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser were two cello players ready to embark on a life in the world's classical music halls.

Then they decided to have some fun and record a rendition of Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" in front of a video camera.

Thousands quickly discovered it on YouTube. A month later, a talent scout from Sony Classical approached the duo with a recording contract. Then Elton John asked them to be the opening act on his current world tour.

"It's like a miracle, what happened," said Hauser, 25, in a telephone interview while en route to a Sarajevo gig. "Elton John expressed admiration for our music and we were honored because he's a living legend. One day we were unknown and now we're living the American dream."

The duo, known as 2Cellos, will bring their energetic playing style and pop-infused chamber music to New York's Le Poisson Rouge. They are also celebrating the U.S. release of their self-titled CD. The 12 cuts are covers of radio-friendly songs that may make many classical purists shudder. They include Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle," "Where the Streets Have No Name" by U2, Nirvana's "Teen Spirit" and "Use Somebody" by Kings of Leon.

Hauser said he and his partner, 23, grew up worshiping pop and rock gods such as Jackson, Sting and Bono like other kids in Croatia. Embracing classical music doesn't mean forsaking other genres.

"Classical music is not so popular unfortunately, and what we're doing is bringing classical music to a younger audience," Hauser said.

The pair have also made a video of "Welcome to the Jungle," which has lured more than 1.6 million viewers on YouTube. The melodic sound of the cello may be prevalent, but the duo plays with a headbanger's fervor.

"We are both very intense cellists, and we play with power," said Hauser, the winner of 21 international and national prizes. "We are like animals on the cello. We break the strings and the bows when we play."

Hauser grew up in the city of Pula, and Sulic was raised in Slovenia. Sulic went to London's Royal Academy of Music, while Hauser enrolled in Manchester's Royal Northern College of Music, where he was the last student of Russian cello legend Mstislav Rostropovich before he died in 2007.

The two met in a master class in Croatia. While it was natural to perform the classics, they decided to play duets of their favorite rock and pop songs as well.

Hauser once performed for Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace. Now he and Sulic play with Elton John in front of thousands. They have toured this month with him in Europe and will rejoin him in the fall for shows in the United States, Brazil, Russia and Australia.

"We perform in front of all sorts of people, and there are a lot of screaming girls, and that's the best part," Hauser said.

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