Dallas — Maya Beiser knows what she wants to accomplish. She makes that clear not only in her music-making, but also in interviews. (See TheaterJones’ interview with Beiser here.) She wants to reimagine the cello as an instrument that can freely navigate a variety of genres.
The problem is, she’s not always successful.
The first half of Beiser’s program presents arrangements of classic rock and blues tunes. This concept has plenty of potential. Beiser has chops as a cellist, she’s creative, and she’s beautiful and glamorous. Should be the perfect storm, right? Not so much. Even accompanied by electric bassist Gyan Riley and Wilco’s formidable drummer Glenn Kotche, the reconfigured rock performances lacked energy. Oh, sure, they were plenty loud—it’s rare that I pull out my earplugs for a performance by a cellist, but it was that kind of night—but otherwise the arrangements seemed uninspired, as did much of the playing.
I have a philosophy about song covers. They should either very closely resemble the original recordings, or they should go in an entirely new direction, relying little on familiar performances and interpretations. Beiser, and her arranger Evan Ziporyn, took the latter tack, but the arrangements were often so far from the originals as to have few anchors for listeners. The one exception was the encore, a performance of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” (which you can see on YouTube here.) It was energetic, lively, and delightful.
Perhaps it’s the backing tracks that Beiser uses—perhaps they keep her, Kotche, and Riley from straying far from a rote plan. In any case, the concept of a rock ’n’ roll cello has so much potential, but isn’t fully realized here.
In the first half, Beiser (who alternated between a Yamaha electric and an acoustic/electric) performed Kotche’s “Three Parts Wisdom.” This piece was reminiscent of Steve Reich’s minimalism; however, it lacked a sense of propulsion or purpose.
More successful was the second half of the program, which incorporated the theme of spirituality. These pieces included two reinventions of the Hebrew “Kol Nidrei,” one by an Arab-American Muslim composer Mohammed Fairouz. The last and longest piece on the printed program was a multimedia piece in just tuning (as Beiser explained from the stage) using film, looping, and other techniques to achieve a hypnotic effect. If mesmerism was the goal, then this last piece fit the bill.
Beiser is an insightful, creative musician with brilliant ideas about how to further her craft. This show lacked the energy necessary to make it a successful means to achieve her considerable ambitions.