With artists like Justin Bieber and Cody Simpson scoring record deals thanks to the videos-gone-viral they posted as no-names on their YouTube pages, the Internet has become much more than a place to Google for the post-Millennial generation.
For aspiring performers like Emil and Dariel Liakhovetski, it’s the world’s biggest audition stage. So when the Boca Raton brothers drew YouTube attention in the summer of 2013 for their classical-meets-classic rock versions of songs like Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the dueling cello players hoped to hear from a record producer.
Instead, Emil and Dariel received an unexpected reality check.
Fast forward to 2014 and Season 9 of “America’s Got Talent.” Captivating a summer TV audience hungry for a reprieve from reruns, the two teenage musicians became overnight sensations with their brand of head-banging cello playing.
“It’s an interesting thing, because we didn’t think of it from the perspective that there was a camera, and on the other side of the camera there are 15 million people watching,” says Dariel, 15. “We kind of forgot about that while we were on TV; only after we got off the show did we realize how many people know us.”
“We were stopped in airports nonstop,” says Emil, now 17. “We couldn’t make it through the security line.”
Performing at Radio City Music Hall on national television every week will have that effect. After winning their way to the finals on AGT, the brothers were the only act to not make the top six but still score an invitation to perform in Las Vegas as part of the live AGT shows.
Building on the momentum of the reality show, Emil and Dariel have continued playing gigs across the U.S., as well as recording and releasing their debut album, “Rock Cellos.” Comprised of classic rock anthems dating back to the 1970s, the album (released this past June) includes three tracks that feature the original vocalists, including Rick Derringer, who spent time at a Hallandale Beach studio with the cellists.
When asked whether recording near their home influenced the album, the answer is unanimous. “Being at home, in our neck of the woods,” Dariel says, “we really felt more inspired and more creative.”
The brothers speak as fast as they play, finishing each other’s sentences, their voices often indiscernible from one another. Growing up only two years apart, attending home school together, and practicing cello for hours every day has produced a bond that is evident in everything they do.
“Give us 10 years,” Emil jokes. “Maybe that will change.”
It’s not likely, given the importance of family to Emil and Dariel, who were classically trained under the watchful eye of their grandfather, Leonid, himself a principal cellist. When the brothers filmed their debut music video—a cover of Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Live and Let Die”—they paid homage to their grandfather, casting him as the lone actor.
Although the judges on AGT, not to mention the American viewing audience, embraced their talent, Emil and Dariel are not without detractors. The brothers have received criticism from musicians in the classical community who feel they’re “selling out” or doing “cheap music.”
“At some point, we really didn’t care what the classical world thought of us, and that really helped us in our success because people see what we do as revolutionary and unique,” Emil says. “I think that we’re part of this bigger movement that’s changing string instruments and the perception that kids and people in general have of instruments.
“A lot of kids feel that by learning a classical instrument that it’s … an ‘old thing’ to do; they’d rather play guitar. What many of them don’t realize is that guitar was at one point a very classical instrument. It was with Jimi Hendrix and that movement that guitar became a rock-and-roll instrument. We feel that cellos and violins can all be part of that same movement. What we’re doing is really very basic. We’re just playing the music that we like on the instruments that we use.”
Armed with an audience that is hooked on the brothers’ classical interpretation of rock, Emil and Dariel are taking on their next challenge—writing original music together.
“The process is entirely different,” Emil says, “but it’s a lot of fun for us, because we get to experiment and try new things.”