Cellist Maya Beiser returns to Mondavi with new music inspired by Spanish golden age

By From page A11 | April 23, 2012

Cellist Maya Beiser — who delighted a Mondavi Center audience in 2007 with her concert program “World To Come” — returns on Saturday, April 28, at 8 p.m. with a program of new music that draws multicultural inspiration from distant times.

The music on Beiser’s current concert program “Provenance” — which is also the title of her 2010 album — looks back on the Golden Age of Spain, from the perspective of modern times.

“A few years ago, I was reading some interesting books about Spain between the 9th Century and the 15th Century, when much of that area was under Muslim rule,” she said. “It was a remarkable period, with a lot of musical cross-fertilization of Arabic classics and Jewish music and Christian chant. There were all these different people living together for hundreds of years in comparative harmony.

“And I became interested in that period, because in some ways it mirrors my own earliest memories. I grew up in the Galilee region of Israel,” said Beiser — her mother had a French background, her father’s heritage was Argentinian. “That part of Israel is an area where Jewish and Muslim and Christian and Druze have lived for many thousands of years. As a child, my family was living in a small kibbutz. But nearby there was a Muslim village, and one of my first memories of music was hearing the call to prayer coming from their mosque — every day, at 5 a.m. I became fascinated with this music,” in addition to the classical pieces by Bach and others that she was studying as a young cello student. “Eventually, as an adult, I started to explore all the different kinds of music that surrounded me very early on.”

For “Provenance,” Beiser brought together music by modern composers  of diverse heritage, invoking music from several different ancient traditions, some with texts in languages ranging from Ladino to Hebrew to Farsi. Joining Beiser on stage will be Lebanese-American musician Bassam Saba (on oud and ney), and percussionists Shane Shanahan and Matt Kilmer on hand drums. The final piece on the program comes from the rock-and-roll era: composer Evan Ziporyn’s arrangement of the Led Zeppelin standard “Kashmir,” with Beiser’s cello taking what was originally the vocal part. “Even though the title of the song is ‘Kashmir,’ it was inspired by a trip that the Led Zep guys did in Morocco” — which is, of course, on the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain. “So I added it to the album, and it became the album’s biggest hit. I love playing it, it feels really natural to do it on the cello.”

“This program is a little different from one I did at Mondavi in 2007,” Beiser said. “The earlier program was a solo cello program that had videos integrated with the music. And this one features ensemble playing, with no videos. But we did work with director Robert Woodruff to create the lighting and the feel of the performance.”

Beiser is now at work on her next project, which she’s calling Cello Opera. “It is a big multimedia undertaking, in collaboration with director Robert Woodruff, including dancers, singing and text. We’ve been working on it for several years. We will be premiering it in the fall at Chapel Hill, N.C., and then touring with it.”

But this week, Beiser is looking forward to playing another concert in Jackson Hall at the Mondavi Center. “It is a beautiful venue, with very nice sound, in a great community,” she said. “This concert features some music that we couldn’t include on the album, so you will hear some new things. And there is room for improvising in some of the pieces, so even if you’ve heard them on the album, they will sound different in concert.”

Maya Beiser’s 8 p.m. Saturday concert will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the audience. Tickets are $25 to $48 regular, $12.50 to $24.50 students; www.mondaviarts.org, (530) 754-2787.

Jeff Hudson

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