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Just Exactly What Is a "Post-Modern Cello Goddess?"

Scott Lucas | March 21, 2014 | Story Music

Crossover cellist Maya Beiser was trained as a classical musician—but she soon broke from the strict orthodoxies of the orchestral world to embark on a series of experimental and electronic work that earned her the Chron's nomination as "queen of the post-minimalist cello."

She brings her eclectic mixture of songs to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts tonight and tomorrow in her new show, All Vows, which features two separate re-imaginings of the Kol Nidre, a part of the traditional Jewish liturgy, drumming by Wilco's Glenn Kotche, accompanying video art, and—oh yeah—unconventional covers of songs by Janis Joplin, Howlin' Wolf, Nirvana, and Led Zeppelin.

We recently sat down with Beiser to find out what keeps her stringing along. Here's what we learned.

She's not big on borders: "I try to take the tradition of classical and concert music and expand it into new territories. For me, it’s about bringing classical music back to the people. If I do covers, I'll equally play Beethoven as much as Led Zeppelin. I don’t apply arbitrary, artificial boundaries."

She found her bliss with Nirvana: "Oh my God, the Nirvana song I play [Lithium] sounds so good. When you put distortion on cello, it sounds awesome. People can’t tell it’s a cello. I play Kurt Cobain's singing on the cello, and it gets that raspy sound."

She's forged her own artistic path: "Having been trained in the tradition of mainstream classical music, I always felt there was something stifling. The great interpreters find their ways out of it. The difficulty with classical is that there is so much emphasis on how you’re supposed to play this or that phrase. There is such a sense of sacredness to it."

She's taking two approaches to the same song: "We have two versions of the Kol Nidre in the show. The first is a re-imagining by the young Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz. I’m playing and signing in Aramaic. It’s a sort of prayer. The second piece is by Michael Gordon, All Vows. That’s the title of the show. It’s very ambient, dark. It doesn’t really have a melody—it’s a succession of triads that keeps moving."

She's not worried about staying on message: "It's not about making a statement. I don’t talk much in my concerts. I try not to explain things. What I want to do is make great music."

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