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She’s A Cellist, But Not Like Any You’ve Ever Heard Before

Arts San Antonio is bringing a world renowned, well-reviewed cellist to the Alamo City, but her sound isn’t exactly classical.

“Yeah, my name is Maya Beiser, and I play the cello.”

She has many styles, from a tranquil, moody style, all the way to AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black.’ She plays the cello, but she’s not what people think of when they think of a cellist.

“No [I'm not]… I use electronics to create a one-woman orchestra, if you will.”

More on how and why she does what she does, but first, a little backstory.

“I started to play in a kibbutz in Israel, I was raised in Israel, and started when I was very young, at the age of six. I was strictly classically trained. And it was not until I graduated from Yale University that I decided to embark on this journey that I’ve been on, which is to redefine what it is to be a classical cellist in the 21st century. And to kinda’ shake up the main stage of classical music.”

She sees no reason for boundaries between classical music and rock ‘n’ roll, and the music she’s making shows it.

“I’m basically taking on the likes of Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix.”

That’s setting the bar pretty high.

“I don’t know, I set the sights pretty high. I think the bar for me is anything that I can imagine in my mind.”

So is she trying to develop a new vernacular for the cello?

“Absolutely. That is exactly what I’m trying to do. Yeah.”

I’ve got to ask this — does she think she’s pulling it off? Her answer, incidentally, is exuberant, if not exactly modest!

“I think so! Just plunging ahead and being fearless and exploring all kinds of new things and also just doing things that are fun, and fun for people to listen to."

She makes her cello sound so unlike Yo-Yo Ma through electronic looping and various digital gear.

“I’m blessed to be living in this time where we’re at the intersection of all this phenomenal technology that’s at our fingers. And so I’m really tapping into that, and trying to use that to create live events.”

Her new album is Uncovered, and the songs are all classic rock songs, but not like you’re used to hearing them. 

“It’s not about trying to recreate it, but rather, it’s about taking what I consider to be masterpieces and reimaginning them, and making something new out of them.”

Not everyone likes the idea of stretching boundaries as she does. Has there been any blowback?

“Yeah, there are always people who… there are always naysayers. But I look for the yay-sayers. I think when you’re avant garde, when you’re pushing the envelope, there will always be people who would reject it. And that’s fine.” [Laughter]

When she comes to the Aztec Theater in San Antonio on Jan. 22, she’s not coming alone.

"I’m going to be playing with two phenomenal musicians — Glenn Kotche, who is the drummer from Wilco, and also, Gyan Riley on bass. And we’re doing this power trio together.”

And her own inherent trifecta of talent, edginess and verve has served her well thus far. 

We've more on Beiser here.

We've more on her San Antonio performance here.