Maya Beiser
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  • Maya Beiser

As a founding member of New York’s Bang on a Can All-Stars cellist Maya Beiser has long embodied a broad-minded aesthetic that routinely travels well outside the confines of contemporary classical music. She’s a technically gifted player with a wild imagination, and tomorrow night she rolls through town for a rare local performance at Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Hall at 7:30 PM. She studied under Isaac Stern, worked with composer James Newton Howard on numerous film scores (including M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth), and worked with folks as diverse as Brian Eno, Louis Andriessen, and Mark O’Connor. The program mirrors—to whatever extent made possible by a single performance—her diverse musical interests.

The first half of Thursday’s concert focuses on music from Beiser’s most recent album, Uncovered (Innova), which I have to admit I do not care for. On it the cellist reimagines a raft of classic-rock tunes I’d just as soon never hear again: Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” Nirvana’s “Lithium,” AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” and Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” among them. She’s original in how she creates loops to put her own spin on the songs, with lots of driving energy and contrapuntal tang, but that doesn’t mean I want to hear them. Wedged in between this stuff in the concert’s first half is “Three Parts Wisdom,” a piece by Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, who’ll be performing live with Beiser—as will bassist Gyan Riley, the son of minimalist pioneer Terry Riley, who recently played in Chicago as part of the collective Eviyan.

The second half of the program looks more promising to me, even though I haven’t heard most of the works. There are new pieces by Michael Gordon (“All Vows”) and Mohammed Fairouz (“Kol Nidrei”), as well as Just Ancient Loops, a rich three-part piece composed by Michael Harrison in just intonation, taken from a 2012 album Harrison and Beiser made together called Time Loops (Cantaloupe). Below you can listen to the first movement of the Harrison piece, “Genesis,” where looping and overdubbing allow the cellist to generate an orchestral depth and complexity.

Today’s playlist:

Nadia Sirota, Baroque (Bedroom Community/New Amsterdam)
Jérôme Noetinger and Will Guthrie, Face Off (Erstwhile)
Grass Roots, Grass Roots (Aum Fidelity)
Lili Boniche, Anthologie (World Village)
Jimmy Smith, Midnight Special (Blue Note)