Cellist Maya Beiser reveals her instrument's vast capabilities in "Time Loops," the album of mystical works written for her by composer and pianist Michael Harrison. NPR placed it among the top 10 recordings of 2012. This week, Beiser and Harrison share its centerpiece, "Just Ancient Loops," in a concert at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Selections by Arvo Part and Evan Ziporyn are also on the program.
The title is a study in itself. According to Harrison, "Just" refers to the tuning system incorporating mathematical harmonies from ancient Greece. "Ancient" refers to the modes and harmonies, while "Loops" indicates the loops of melody and rhythm that create an odyssey for an orchestra of cellos.
"Michael and I collaborated on this," Beiser said. "It lasts 25 minutes and is quite a special piece with special tuning. I created 22 separate tracks and recorded them in Michael's studio. For the concert, I'm playing my cello along with with the computer-generated recorded tracks that build on top of each other. I wanted to perform it in Washington because it will be the centerpiece of a new program I'll do next year."
The Israeli-born artist performed the premiere of "Just Ancient Loops" at the Bang on a Can marathon last year. A founding member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, she is devoted to opening up contemporary classical music to everyone by ignoring arbitrary labels. Her goal is for young people to come in whenever they hear music happening and to enjoy themselves.
|Maya Beiser and Michael Harrison|
|» Where: Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE|
|» When 8 p.m. Friday, May 10|
|» Info: $25, $15 students; 202-399-7993; atlasarts.org|
"Once they realize it's beautiful, they will begin to take concert music seriously," she said.
She has explored the cello's boundaries in works she has commissioned and through others written for her by such contemporary composers as Tan Dun, Brian Eno, Philip Glass, Osvaldo Golijov, Steve Reich and Mark O'Connor.
"I love experimenting in different sound worlds like the bluegrass world of Mark O'Connor and the Chinese world of Tan Dun and translating them into the cello," she said. "So many people have encouraged me, beginning with Isaac Stern, whom I met in Israel. When I start a new project, I dig in and do research in order to explore to the maximum. It's like actors who take on different personalities to tell different stories.
"My love of being on the cutting edge came from within. I've been a rebel from early on. Perhaps it has to do with living in a kibbutz where you're expected to be part of everything that's going on. I've always looked for individual expression and have been inspired by other female artists, Janis Joplin, for one. Ultimately, when you embark on an artistic journey, you go where your passion takes you. Along the way, I've been finding new ways to explore the cello."
Beiser has been featured on several film sound tracks. She finds that the cello is the ideal instrument for this because it has the unique ability to touch hearts. It's sound, similar to the human voice, has a melancholy element that can be rhythmical, lyrical, high, low and versatile in innumerable ways. Best of all, it can be on top of the orchestra in film scores by providing sound effects and even visual elements with emotional overtones.
One of her most unusual projects was "Elsewhere: a CelloOpera." Her inspiration came from a book by French poet Henri Michaux, a gift from her mother. One poem, "I am Writing to You from a Far-Off Country," is about a woman who sees the world coming to an end and wants to let others know about the society in which she lives. To pair that woman with another heroine, Beiser chose the story of Lot's wife and composed the opera as a duet between her cello and a vocalist singing Armenian melodies.
Her creativity in many areas led to an invitation to speak at a TED conference, an experience she will long remember.
"Being asked to share my use of technology at that conference was an incredible opportunity" she said. "The energy that happens when you are with people who want to make a better world by putting that energy into innovation gives you a unique power."