Maya Beiser and her Cello
Listening, Novelty, and Outrage
Just listen. There is no need to read the reflections on the right if you are pressed for time. I'll summarize: three kinds of spirituality emerge from the cello of Maya Beiser: Listening, Novelty, and Outrage. All are ways of sharing in and being responsive to the poignancy of life, human and divine. All are forms of love. You'll hear all three in the music.
Music is what life sounds like, from the inside out. Spirituality is an opening of the heart to the many feelings and sounds of that spring forth from life. Sometimes there is the singing, the growling, and the cooing. Sometimes the moaning, the shouting and the stuttering. If we imagine a deep empathy nested within the heart of the universe -- an empathy which hears it all and shares in it all -- that empathy might take the form of the cello.
"The cello is a natural-born diva: It embraces the entire range, and much of the expressive variety, of the human voice. It can sing, growl, coo, moan, shout, and stutter, and when Beiser plays, the relationship between musician and instrument has a dramatic intensity that borders on the erotic."
-- Justin Davidson, New York Times Review of Elsewhere, October 21, 2012
We might also imagine that the empathy beckons someone to hear the cello's possibilities and combine them with fresh possibilities from other media. Someone who knows that the universe is an uncertain adventure and who is not afraid to explore, gathering diverse influences from the past into novel possibilities in the present, all for the sake of a deeper listening.
"Bach's music would intermingle with the singing voices of Muslim prayers from the neighboring Arab village on the northern kibbutz where I
grew up. Late at night after hours of practicing I would listen to Janis Joplin and Billie Holiday as the sounds of tango music would be creeping from my parent's stereo."
-- Maya Beiser in her TED talk
'Elsewhere is a real integration of music, theatre, dance, and visuals. The most interesting part of this for me is on how this piece takes the cello on an incredible journey of sound....I'm using a lot of guitar pedals to manipulate the sounds throughout the piece. There are moments
wherE literally the cello is sounding like a Jimi Hendrix guitar."
-- Maya Beiser in her explanation of Elsewhere
The story of Elsewhere is about the experience of two women who are facing the end of their world. It is based on a story in the Bible about Lot's wife, who was, in Beisler's words a nameless woman who was punished savagely for a human gesture.” Her human gesture was a turning back to see her friends as she left the village she loved. Beisler is outraged by the savagery of one who would deny the humanity. Another name for outrage and its consequent response: giving voice to the voiceless, otherwise called justice.
"For all its parallels with opera’s primal themes, Elsewhere brazenly defies both scriptural and operatic archetypes. In the Bible, Lot’s wife has
neither a name nor a voice; in Elsewhere, she has multiple voices, both vocal and instrumental. While standard repertory operas fetishize the
prima donna and her voice, they also in one sense muzzle women, reducing them to glorified ventriloquist dummies spouting music and words nearly always wrought by men. In Elsewhere, women creators give Lot’s wife the voices denied her by the Bible. In mainstream opera, women regularly sing to enact “their eternal undoing,” to borrow a phrase from philosopher Catherine Clément. In Elsewhere, Lot’s wife sings to tell of truths and traumas left unspoken in the Bible. She exhorts her interlocutors to “scratch [her] name, scratch [her] story, scratch [her] song” into salt and stone, so that the very matter that had silenced and punished her in the Bible comes to bear witness to her untold story.
-- Marion Lignana Rosenberg commenting on Elsewhere in The Classical Review Blog, October 16, 2012.
Who is Maya Beiser?
"Maya is an original. Born on a kibbutz to an Argentinian father and a French mother (who introduced her to the works of Henri Michaux), she grew up speaking Hebrew, Spanish, some French, and English of course… If this mix
of languages provided the narrative foreground for her early life, the background several times a day would be the soulful sound of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer.
As a young woman, Maya eventually left the kibbutz and made her way to the United States to study at Yale under Aldo Parisot. This fine professional training would certainly have prepared her for a more conventional career than the one she has chosen. But...she could never have contented herself with simply offering up her versions of Haydn and Dvorak concertos.
By the time she arrived at Yale, she was already imbued with a sense of wonder about her world and outrage with its injustices. This wonder and outrage continue to fuel her creative musical ventures.'
-- from review of Elsewhere by Peter Cummings (http://elsewherecelloopera.com/)