Maybe it's because they have to play sitting down, but cellists, more than almost any other classical soloists, are pegged as stodgy. As soon as Maya Beiser steps onstage, though--in a flamboyant thrift-shop outfit and, likely as not, red platform shoes--it's clear she's nothing of the sort. Ranging far from the instrument's traditional repertoire, she's embraced jazz, avant-garde rock, and minimalism. Born in Israel and trained at Yale, she's played in a Brian Eno-influenced new-music ensemble called the Bang on a Can All-Stars since she moved to New York in the early 90s, and in recent seasons she's debuted works by iconoclasts such as Steve Reich, John Zorn, Tan Dun, Anthony Davis, and Osvaldo Golijov. Her CDs likewise reflect her eclectic taste: in 1995 she put out a disc of chamber pieces by Soviet pioneers Sofia Gubaidulina and Galina Ustvolskaya, breathing life into the cerebral, astringent music with her volatile style, and in '99 she released Oblivion, a compilation of tango-influenced works for cello and piano by Astor Piazzolla and Joaquin Nin. Her latest, Kinship (Koch International), pays homage to far-flung musical traditions--Cambodian, Balinese, Indian, Brazilian, Arabic--in a series of seven pieces scored for cello and, in a few cases, spare accompaniment. "Tsmindao Ghmerto," by her Bang on a Can bandmate Evan Ziporyn, is based on a Georgian plainchant, and blends Beiser's voice with the cello's melodies in a counterpoint that sounds uncannily like antique sacred music. For two works by Palestinian oud master Simon Shaheen, Beiser inflects her playing with a heavy Middle Eastern twang, and on "Kebyar Maya," a gamelan orchestra piece Ziporyn has transcribed for multitracked cello, she weaves more than two dozen layers of whacking, plucking, strumming, and bowing into a busy hive of rhythmic cells and contrasting timbres. All but one of the selections from Kinship (the title track, by Glen Velez) are included on Beiser's program for her local solo debut. Thursday, October 26, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/David William Powell.