Cellist Maya Beiser finds spirituality in music 

click to enlarge Maya Beiser
  • courtesy photo
  • Maya Beiser presents the world premiere of “All Vows” in San Francisco this week.
Part musician, part shaman, incomparable cellist Maya Beiser explores the dichotomy between the physical, external world and humans’ secret selves.

Joined by Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, bassist Jherek Bischoff and experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison, she premieres her newest production, “All Vows,” at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this week.

“It’s a big-themed concert about all these things that matter to me,” she says. “I always try to construct my concerts around what I find most relevant in this time and moment, and then take my listeners with me on that journey. What it’s ultimately about is that music allows us the ability to express ourselves and be real.”

“All Vows” is also another step in a life journey of a woman who was raised in a small Israeli kibbutz by Argentine and French parents dedicated to changing the world. Everyone in the kibbutz played an instrument; little Maya soon fell in love with the human quality of the cello’s voice. Equally important to her was the fact that it was big and served as a “kind of protective device from the world.”

Surrounded by all kinds of music — from classical and Jacques Brel to Arabic — Beiser soon found herself uneasy with the strictness of classical culture.

“I remember the first time that I heard Janis Joplin on record, and it blew my mind away,” she says. “I just couldn’t get over the raw emotion, and the way she put herself out there. I became obsessed with her, and started to listen to all of her music. That led me to blues and rock, and the realization that music for me is not just the classical music of the past. I wanted to do something different with my cello, and find the way to connect all these dots for me and my audience … by reinventing the whole concert experience.”

Some of Beiser’s influences will surface in the first half of the evening, which she calls a “carefully curated collection of ‘uncovers’” crafted by Evan Ziporyn. The lineup includes Beiser’s original take on Joplin’s “Summertime” and other rock tunes; post-classical composer David T. Little’s “Hellhound,” based on the blues of Robert Johnson; another “uncover” of music by Howlin’ Wolf; and original compositions.

The second half includes Muslim Arab-American Mohammed Fairouz’s original “Kol Nidrei” for cello and prerecorded sounds (which Beiser calls “a potent statement on why people have to stop shooting at each other and make music together”), and Michael Gordon’s “All Vows,” supported by Morrison’s film.

“The evening goes deep into my spiritual life and the idea that a concert is a spiritual experience,” Beiser says. “The cliche, ‘Music is my religion,’ is actually true for me.”


Maya Beiser’s All Vows

Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum, 701 Mission St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Tickets: $25 to $35

Contact: (415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org

About The Author

Jason Victor Serinus

Jason Victor Serinus

Jason Victor Serinus is a music and high performance audio critic, whistler, and lecturer on opera and vocal recordings. He is editor of Psychoimmunity and the Healing Process: A Holistic Approach to Immunity & AIDS. In addition to writing for the San Francisco Examiner, he has written about music for Opera News,... more
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