Years ago, when performing with a choir called Musica Viva in NYC, we encircled the congregation and sang a work by Palestrina.
When we finished, I saw an old man sobbing. It struck me that music really does have the ability to touch a person’s heart unlike anything else, and I have long wondered if maybe that isn’t God, or some form of spirit, in action. Last night I attended an intimate concert by the fabulous cellist Maya Beiser, and was on the receiving end of that sort of transmission.
After a frenzied scramble to find the new arts complex, the Casitas Theatre in Atwater Village, which houses two theater companies and a small performing hall, I took a seat and tried to catch my breath and discard thoughts of the pressing matters on my desk at home.
Maya emerged, clad in her usual stunning low-cut black leather ensemble, and sat down to play. No sooner had she played three notes than I thought, “uh oh… she’s cracking my heart wide open…” The piece was Osvaldo Golijov’s “Mariel,” which has haunted me from the first hearing. I made my best effort to choke back tears, and eventually realized I wouldn’t be able to win the fight.
As she finished the Golijov work, a Mr. Nazarian, whom I believe arrived with a stunning blonde on his arm (Kristin Cavallari?) presented a certificate of recognition from from the City of Los Angeles to Maya Beiser for crossing cultural boundaries and bringing cultures together. Beiser’s work has a consistently humanitarian context, often fueled by travels to meet and learn from musicians around the world, sometimes in troubled countries. She was born and raised on a kibbutz in Israel, later attended Yale, and helped found the renowned new music ensemble, “Bang on a Can All-Stars,” which held pioneering 24 hour a day performances for ear-opening weekends in NYC in the late 80’s.
I first stumbled upon Beiser on MySpace, when I saw her name and thought it familiar, some sort of déjà vu connection. Transfixed by the sounds on her page, I dug up her website, and saw she was due for a concert that month at UC San Diego, and attempted to reserve tickets when I realized the calendar was a year old. I periodically checked the site, and last year got to see her at UCSD for the first time.
At that small show in a lounge at the UCSD student union, I felt I had slipped into a dream, transported to a large gallery in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where a large wall looms just above the eye of the viewer so that you can’t see out the glass wall beyond it. I felt I had levitated and observed the view through the window, descending back into my seat as the music stopped, unable to recall exactly what I had seen, but changed by the vision nonetheless.
Thursday’s LA concert accompanied the release of her new CD “Provenance,” which features music by contemporary composers from Armenia, Kurdish Iran, Israel, and the US. The title means origins, referring to both Maya’s personal history and the intertwining cultural traditions that course through this stunning disc.
It included pieces from her previous albums, among them a multitrack piece written for her by Steve Reich, “Cello Counterpoint.” Many of her works rely heavily on recordings of her playing several parts, often with electronic processing, and she acknowledged her sound engineer to be her accompanist. As she returned for an encore, she performed her wildly rousing version of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” arranged by Evan Ziporyn.
Here’s a terrible quality video link, but it gives you an idea of the style of the arrangement. The album is available on iTunes or from her website.
Maya Beiser’s performance of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”
When I saw Maya perform Kashmir, I immediately thought of Lili Haydn, who’d actually performed with Led Zeppelin, I believe. I’d met her at Gurmukh’s Kundalini Yoga classes, and thrilled with her performances at The Viper Room on the Sunset Strip. I’d love to see Maya and Lili perform together!
Here’s another inventive arrangement of that song by The Ordinaires, whom I’d heard perform this years ago in NYC.
Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t let you hear the original again too: