What did Luka Sulic want to be when he was growing up? Suffice it to say that even his wildest dreams did not include being a performer who headlined major sports arenas throughout the U.S.
"This was never even in the back of my mind, you know?" says the Slovenia-born Sulic, who partners with fellow cellist Stjepan Hauser in the aptly named pop-classical crossover sensation 2Cellos. "Growing up in the classical environment, since we were children, of course we had big dreams of how to succeed in the classical world -- to show our talent.
"But life took us in such a different direction than we ever could have imagined. We feel really blessed and grateful that we managed to get so (popular) that we are playing arenas all over the states."
That includes Agganis Arena in Boston on Saturday, March 30.
It has been a wild ride that has brought them from a classroom in Croatia, where the two musicians first met as teens, to appearances alongside such greats as Elton John, Andrea Bocelli, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Lang Lang. They have also been featured on such TV programs as "GMA Day," "Today," "Ellen" and "The Tonight Show."
In other words, to say things turned out a bit different than what Sulic and the Croatia-born Hauser expected is a vast understatement.
"We were both going to competitions and studying," Sulic reflects back during a recent phone interview with both cellists. "We wanted to be classical soloists who play chamber music, maybe teach somewhere. But at the end of our studies, we made this video that changed our lives forever."
He's talking about the video they did for "Smooth Criminal," the Michael Jackson number that the cellists turned into a kind of pop-classical crossover manifesto.
It was 2011, and Sulic and Hauser met up in London, having not seen each other for almost 10 years. They began talking about collaborating, throwing around ideas for doing "something crazy, something exciting," Sulic says.
They decided to do a cello version of a pop/rock song, but had to find the right one.
"There are many great songs, but not every song fits on the cello," Hauser says. "As soon as we hear the song, we know, approximately, if it is going to work or not. If the song is very melodic, has a beautiful melody, then it has a big chance it will work on the cello."
They bet on "Smooth Criminal," with its melodic, yet rhythmically fascinating signature riff, and ended up hitting the jackpot. They posted a video of their version on YouTube, and the online world quickly responded.
"We didn't sleep all night -- the views were coming up, the comments were coming," Sulic says. "We got, like, 200 emails a day. For us, that was a totally different world from what we were used to."
The interest just continued to increase, with listeners wanting more cello versions of pop and rock songs.
"It took us in a totally different direction," Sulic says. "We had to adapt quickly to the situation because we had only one song and we then had to develop the whole thing from the ground up, and find new ways to play the cello, like people had never seen before."
The duo soon inked a deal with Sony Masterworks and went into the studio to record its eponymous debut, featuring cello takes on Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle," U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" and other well-known hits.
The album was released in June 2011 and was a big success, topping the Billboard classical chart.
The 2Cellos had quickly found their musical signature -- drawing from classical music to deliver deeply expressive and emotional versions of pop hits. And that approach, Sulic points out, was different than what was going on elsewhere in the pop-classical crossover universe.
"There were many sort-of crossover acts, but we weren't really fans of those acts, because they usually take a classical masterpiece and turn it into pop, easy-listening crap," he says. "Like, they take a theme from a Beethoven symphony and add techno beats to it.
"We did the opposite -- we took good pop and rock songs and gave them this classical dimension, turned them into something even more expressive, even more interesting."
The group kept right on recording hit albums, including its latest -- and fifth overall -- "Let There Be Cellos," which was released in 2018 and again brought 2Cellos to the top of the charts.
Along the way, 2Cellos has transformed into a full-fledged arena act, capable of filling thousands of seats each time the two musicians perform. But don't expect to see just an oversized chamber music recital if you go to see 2Cellos. They aren't just sitting around on chairs and playing their instruments, but rather working hard to deliver a big, pop-music spectacle.
"Our show is like a real rock show," Hauser says. "Everyone goes wild. I go into the audience, run around, lie on the floor -- like all the craziest rock bands, you know?
"It makes total sense to do it in an arena. It feels natural."
Still, the show, at its core, remains a celebration of the group's namesake instrument.
"Cello, by itself, is a perfect instrument, because of the range -- you can play it low and you can play really high," Sulic says. "And if you combine two cellos, you can do miracles."
Tickets to the 2Cellos show at Agganis Arena on March 30 start at $45.50. Visit www.agganisarena.coms.