B rightly voiced and musically attentive ... young Israeli cellist Maya Beiser has a firm and even hand, regardless of subject: bleak modernism, sultry ethnicity, or Romantic revival.”T he performance by cellist Maya Beiser last night in Boston in the Celebrity Series (at the newly-restored Paramount Theatre at 560 Washington St in the Boston theater district) was deeply inspiring.
Allan Kozinn, The New York Times.
- Arvo Pärt: Fratres (4 cello tracks, live cello)
- Chinary Ung: Khse Buon (cello and electronics)
- Osvaldo Golijov: Mariel (4 cello tracks, live cello)
- Steve Reich: Cello Counterpoint (7 cello tracks, live cello, video)
- Evan Ziporyn (arr.): Like Smoke (cello track, live cello, voice)
- David Lang: World to Come (24 cello tracks, live cello, voice, video)
E lectroacoustic synthesis, digital reverb, and DAW sound-processing effects and antiphonal elements from her electrified cello (miked at its bridge) predominate in Pärt’s ‘Fratres’. Highly realistic cello emulations of classical qin glisses and sounds of other traditional Asian instruments captivate us and hold our interest in Chinary Ung’s ‘Khse Buon’. Maya’s cello technic is astounding—a spectacle in its own right well worth the ticket price just to see this. She and her production team put great effort into visual spectacle as well, on a par with what we would expect from, say, opera. (Classical music presenters, take note!)
M ost significantly, though, Maya’s repertoire does not involve separating art from life, and therefore it’s likely to be widely appreciated and subscribed to—compared to less accessible art music. People are more likely to integrate it into their listening and preferred experiences. Maya challenges us—including her use of Hebrew and medieval texts for her vocals; including rapidly altering meters and polyrhythms; including prolonged stretches of microtonal dissonances that refuse to resolve into hoped-for comfort. But she doesn’t ‘strip our [perceptual] gears’; doesn’t ‘trip our circuit-breakers’.
B y contrast, think of composers like Philippe de Vitry, who composed motets and other choral music where several languages were heard simultaneously. This is probably the nearest thing to what we heard Maya Beiser perform last night. Or maybe Glagolitic chant. Anyhow, Philippe de Vitry is, to me, emblematic of compulsive fuse-blowing and impedance mismatch regardless what century you live in. If you live for querulous reactions, or if your message is symbolic evocation of disparity and alienation and political discord, then, hey, go right ahead—do it like Philippe. Just don’t imagine that people will love it, buy it like hotcakes.
U nless. Unless, you use the complexity as a way to change the narrative or subvert the intention of the original—which is what Maya Beiser does so extensively in this program (and in her recordings).
E van Ziporyn’s ‘Like Smoke’ is based on Tsmindao Ghmerto, a 13th century Sanctus from the orthodox Georgian Liturgy that exhibits extreme polyphony of 15 or more distinct parts or voices, with untempered intervals and shocking harmonic convergences. In Evan Ziporyn’s arrangement, Maya’s voice and Maya’s cello weave a perception-bending pseudo-archaic ‘fabric’ out of tri-filar (two cello tracks; one vocal track) ‘threads’.
G od, the soul you gave meT he poetic text [we humans are mortal ‘smoke’ that is not ‘real’ or ‘purposeful’ but only someone else’s (God’s) memories, residue of someone else’s love (God’s), destined to be consumed and vanish forever] subverts the religious postulate of eternal life; we are all inconsequential, beautiful-but-meaningless aerosols—mere air pollutants, not individuals with moral standing and worth.
Memories of Love burning on eternal pyre.
Once born, we immediately begin to torch,
Until all the smoke vanishes,
[I am, we are—] Like smoke.”
T his beauteous prostrate imagery is mightily at odds with how we (all of us except monks, that is) conduct our lives. The quasi-archaism belies a post-modern, post-minimalist intention. The original sacred, liturgical purpose of Tsmindao Ghmerto is co-opted to the purpose of honoring romantic/carnal love—which is the substitution that is natural for us post-modern, western, sexy media-immersed souls to make.
U sing György Ligeti’s ‘Lux Aeterna’ and ‘Requiem’ and Johann Strauss’s ‘An der schönen blauen Donau’ in the film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is similar. Good examples of musical irony. Provocatively subverting our notions of the ‘specialness’ of us as human beings and individuals; provocatively subverting our assumptions/self-delusions about God, about linear time, about whether there is deep meaning in the Universe. Quasi-archaic music to challenge post-modern world-views.
T he dramaturgy and use of irony are engaging—Maya’s edgy acoustic textural and visual fields do not seriously test our perceptual boundaries, not really. Instead, the consistency and the psychological cohesiveness of Maya’s performance (and the cohesiveness of each of these compositions and videos) keep from blowing the listeners’ ‘fuses’, in much the same way that ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ did not blow any fuses.
C ello Counterpoint’ for eight cellos...is irresistibly driven and less overtly contrapuntal than earlier installments in the series. Mr. Reich explores new harmonic ground, not least an almost Romantic lushness aided by Ms. Beiser’s rich tone and energetic playing.”F or Steve Reich’s ‘Cello Counterpoint,’ Bill Morrison filmed Maya playing seven of the eight cello parts. She plays the eighth part ‘live’ alongside this film, forming an all-Beiser octet. The ‘septich’ film panels reveal the mutability of human personality over time. This is a rather long work, and Maya’s serially recording each of the seven tracks that appear in the film must’ve taken a day or longer. The seven panels comprising the ‘septich’ film show Maya and her cello, projected on the 7-meter-high floor-to-ceiling screen, with facial expressions and bowing gestures as widely varied as anyone might have during the course of a day—from fresh in the morning, to fatigued in the afternoon. The eight Mayas do have contrapuntal conversations with each other, as the title promises. But more than this, we emerge with a sense of the recursive quality of the meat-computer inside of Maya’s head, inside of our heads… its small-timescale 200-millisecond canons that return and re-trigger the same network of synapses and reinvoke the same thought that had not yet finished executing.
Allan Kozinn, The New York Times.
I rit Batsry made videos for David Lang’s ‘World to Come’ so Beiser appears to perform inside an empty warehouse or in front of rippling water. Lots of recursion, musically and visually, in this piece, too. In other words, Batsry’s black-and-white video is no mere ‘backdrop’ or throw-down scenery. It is genuine accompaniment and the result, a genuine multimedia performance. Fascinating!
O ver the past decade, Beiser has commissioned and performed many new works, collaborating with composers Tan Dun, Brian Eno, Philip Glass, Osvaldo Golijov, Steve Reich, Louis Andriessen, and Mark O’Connor among others. Raised on a kibbutz in Israel by her French mother and Argentinean father, Maya Beiser is a graduate of Yale University. Her major teachers were Aldo Parisot, Uzi Weizel, Alexander Schneider, and Isaac Stern. Maya was the founding cellist of the new music ensemble, the Bang on a Can All-Stars.
- Maya Beiser website
- Cleveland K. Maya Beiser: A traveler of both time and space. Dig, 22-APR-2010
- Beiser M. Almost Human. (Koch, 2007.)
- Beiser M. Steve Reich: You Are. (Nonesuch, 2005.)
- Labelle B. Acoustic Territories: Sound Culture and Everyday Life. Continuum, 2010.
- Landy L. Understanding the Art of Sound Organization. MIT, 2007.
- Miller F, Vandome A, McBrewster J, eds. Musique concrète. AlphaScript, 2009.
- Toop D. Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship of the Listener. Continuum, 2010.
- Wheat L. Kubrick's 2001: A Triple Allegory. Scarecrow, 2000.