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It was nice to see a warmer side to the cellist's chill, hyper-modern aesthetic as she introduced songs and asked the audience for vocal and smartphone participation. At the end she sent us out to wander the crowded desert of Greenwich Village, inspired by her musicianship but even more so by her distinctive dark aesthetic.

Concert Review: Maya Beiser (NYC 9/13/2016)

maya beiser tranceclassicalCellist Maya Beiser took the stage alone at (le) poisson rouge the other night with her two cellos, one electric and one acoustic, to perform music from her new album TranceClassical (reviewed here).

At one point she described for us her awakening to music as a small child in Israel, when she first heard Bach. Appropriately enough she opened the concert with her arrangement of Bach’s famous “Air” (“on the G string”).

Not avant-garde like much of her work, it’s deferential, beautifully arranged with prerecorded accompaniment and a video of abstract choreography. She followed it up with Michael Gordon’s “All Vows” (the English translation of “Kol Nidre” from the Jewish liturgy), with plenty of layered reverb and a melody that wanders like we saw Beiser herself doing, walking about in the woods, in the rather too-precious video that went with it. Viewing self-consciously artsy imagery is a price one pays for letting oneself get swept up in the sonic storm that is Maya Beiser.

Just as I began to wonder whether the meditative “All Vows” would ever end up anywhere, the cellist added her wordless voice to the mix. The piece becomes multi-dimensional, building, swelling, subsiding, swelling again, ultimately repaying attention to its roaming, yearning melodies.

Just as strong and appealing was Beiser’s vocorder-aided arrangement of the Imogen Heap song “Hide and Seek,” where a computer manipulated sounds from her voice and electric cello to create dense, beautiful harmonies. She then employed various delays in Glenn Kotche’s “Three Parts Wisdom” to create a wall of sound with interesting undulating textures, though the effect wore thin after a while.

David Lang’s arrangement of the Velvet Underground song “Heroin” made more sense to me in concert than it does on the album, mostly because the vocals seemed more prominent. Their effect isn’t directly emotional, though; Beiser delivers the lines with an ethereal chill that contrasts with the cello’s warm tones, as if to say: My voice says the words, but my “real” instrument carries the meaning.

“I guess that I just don’t know,” goes the famous line from “Heroin.” No such doubts were felt in the next piece, a crashing performance of a work called “Hellhound.” Against its industrial-rock sheets of sound I was not the only audience member who had to partially block his ears. A thunderous assertion of creative power, it read as a kind of declaration of independence: This former member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars needs no collaborators – none on stage with her, anyway – to dominate a room.

“Hellhound” made Mohammed Fairouz’s haunting “Kol Nidre” – probably the first setting of that text ever written by a Muslim composer – all the more evocative. We are all in our own ways, it seemed to say, wanderers in the desert. In concert, I liked this piece best of all.

The set closed with Beiser’s lovely arrangement of some music by Hildegard von Bingen, that medieval darling of the contemporary avant-garde, followed by an encore drawn from Beiser’s previous album, Uncovered. Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” was a sweetly melodic way to end a muscular show.

It was nice to see a warmer side to Beiser’s chill, hyper-modern aesthetic as she introduced songs and asked the audience for vocal and smartphone participation; complimented her composers, arrangers, and behind-the-scenes collaborators; and sent us out to wander the crowded desert of Greenwich Village inspired by her musicianship, but even more so by her distinctive dark aesthetic. There are many fine cellists among us. There is only one Maya Beiser.


About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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