When you’re watching a concert by cellist Maya Beiser, you could possibly mistake it for a rock concert, an intergalactic sci-fi battle or a WWE Smackdown event. Laser lights strike the stage as digital graphics project behind the Israeli-born cellist playing under a bathing stage light. Beiser, who heads to Wortham Center this Friday, is known for her avant-garde take on playing the classical instrument, defying tradition and taking concertgoers on a visceral journey through music.
“I was always a rebel, always wanting to do things my own way. I was always looking to not be the status quo,” says Beiser, who was raised in an artistic and multicultural kibbutz in her native Israel. She began playing the cello around age 6, encouraged by her Argentinean father and French mother. “I was exposed to a lot of different cultures and music early on.”
Listeners can hear the many influences in Beiser’s striking, evocative and often emotional playing. It was during her studies at Yale that she discovered that the cello, always known as a deeply rooted instrument in the classical music genre, could be used to play many different kinds of music. Beiser, now artist-in-residence at MIT, looked to her own musical interests for inspiration and began to shake the foundation of tradition.
“I started asking myself the question of what is it I really want to do with music? That was the point I realized that I really wanted to change the way people perceive the cello,” she notes. “I wanted to make it relevant to my generation and connect all different kinds of music.”
Beiser has gained recognition as a rebel in the string instrument community, focusing more on playing rock ballads including covering songs from the likes of AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain, a hero of hers.
For her performance at Wortham, Beiser will play songs from her Uncovered album, a chart-topping record that debuted last year.
“My attempt was really about stripping that music to its core and rebuilding it to all these different sounds and to find a new sound.”
Even with a large community of classical purists listening on, Beiser pushed forward, piercing through with each violent stroke of her instrument.
“When you do something new, you’re always going to get people who have a hard time accepting it…I think what makes music such a powerful thing is when you bring it to the lens of the human part of it. Music is not about perfection to me—it’s more about the imperfection.”
Friday, Oct. 2. 8. $28-58. Cullen Theater, Wortham Center, 501 Texas Ave. 713-227-4772. spahouston.org