project: World to Come
Evocative, theatrical and spiritual, World To Come is Maya Beiser’s multimedia solo concert, featuring premieres by Steve Reich, Osvaldo Golijov and David Lang. This evening challenges the notion of a solo cello concert and encompasses text, vocals, dramatic lighting and interactive videos. World To Come had its world premiere at the Krannert Center on October 18th, 2003, and its New York premiere as part of the inaugural season of Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall on October 30th, 2003, followed by a major national and international tour.
Imagining a solo cello concert, one would most likely think of the J. S. Bach unaccompanied cello suites. As a child, studying these eternal masterpieces, Bach’s music would intermingle with the singing voices of Muslim prayers from the neighboring Arab village of the Northern Kibbutz in Israel where I grew up. Late at night, after hours of practicing, I would listen to Janis Joplin and Billy Holiday as the sounds of tango music would be creeping in from my parent’s turntable and the nearby windows of this Argentinean community. It all became music to me. I didn’t hear the boundaries.
I still start every day of practicing playing Bach. This music never ceases to sound fresh and surprising to me. But as I was moving away from the traditional classical repertoire and trying to find new ways of musical expression, I realized that with today’s technological resources, there is no reason to limit what can be produced at one time from a single string instrument. The power and coherency that comes from one person hearing, perceiving and playing all the voices, makes a very different experience. It could never sound the same with an ensemble of cellists. The excitement of a great orchestra or string quartet performance comes from the attempt to have a collective of musicians perceiving one unified, whole concept. The excitement from using multi-tracking the way I did in World To Come comes from the attempt to create and build a whole universe, with many diverse layers, all generated from a single source. My cello in the studio created all the pre-recorded tracks in tonight’s performance. It is a fascinating process in which the music is being constructed a layer at a time.
When composers write music for me, I ask them to forget what they know about the cello, I hope to arrive at new territories, to discover sounds I have never heard before. I want to create endless possibilities with my cello. I become the medium, through which the music is being channeled, and in the process, when all is right, the music is transformed and so am I.
Imaginary Spaces for “World to Come:”
The video projections for “World to Come” create imaginary spaces on the stage, environments inhabited by Maya Beiser and her music.
The projected space for “La Voce” by Louis Andriessen, is empty and bare. A fractured image of a desolate place. Maya, singing and reciting the poem, La Voce by Cesare Pavese, becomes the human presence which makes a space marked by absence resonate.
The space created for David Lang’s World to Come is a world in transformation, in the process of becoming. Composed of images of water that I have shot in the past five years, this “creation scene” stems from my videotape “Traces of a Presence to Come” (1989-93) in which water is evoked as a dominant element in creation myths of different cultures.
Maya, playing inside this video environment in flux, appears at the same time to be surrounded by it and to generate it with the sounds of her cello.
Water here is raw matter, a physical element and a metaphor.
Like water, video signal is a flow.
It carries, it changes.
It can’t be grasped.
You can’t bathe in the same river twice.
You can’t see an image nor hear a sound twice,
not in the same way.
“I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comforts me. I work with very few elements – with one voice, two voices. I build with primitive materials – with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells. I call it tintinnabulation.”
Fratres was written for the 12 cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic. Two years ago I was coaching a class of cellists, fine conservatory students, who were struggling with the piece. As I was trying to help them unify their bow strokes, their use of vibrato, and the breath of the phrasing, – the thought of playing it as a multi-track version came to me. By multi-tracking I could transcend the technical difficulty of “sounding like one voice,” to try and explore other dimensions in the piece. By playing and pre-recording the other voices, I liberated myself to immerse in one role, assured of the “others” joining in perfect harmony. The twelve celli merge into one voice.
Mariel is Osvaldo Golijov’s portrait of a departed friend. He writes:
“Mariel was the beautiful wife of my childhood friend Dario. She died in a car accident in January 2001. I wrote this short memorial for her, with melodies resembling the coast of Brazil that she and Dario loved so much.”
Osvaldo and I share similar background emanating from Argentina. His music always resonates with me, it feels very natural, it always sings. This multi-track version is an arrangement of the original score for cello and Marimba written for Steven Schick and myself.
Cello counterpoint is the first piece Reich has written entirely for cello, and I believe it will become a staple in the cello repertoire. It is an intense and demanding piece that employs an enormous range of the cello and requires utmost discipline and precision.
Reich writes: “Cello Counterpoint is scored for soloist and seven pre-recorded tracks. It is in three movements; fast, slow, fast. The first and last movements are both based on a similar four chord cycle that moves ambiguously back and forth between C minor and Eb major. This harmonic cycle is treated extremely freely however, particularly in the third movement. As a matter of fact, what strikes me most about these movements is that they are generally the freest in structure of any I have ever written. The second, slow movement is a canon in Eb minor involving, near the end of the movement, seven separate voices.
Cello Counterpoint is one of the most difficult pieces I have ever written, calling for extremely tight, fast moving rhythmic relationships not commonly found in the cello literature.”
I met Louis Andriessen while a student at Yale University. This was 1986; I was beginning my exploration with contemporary music. He gave me the score for La Voce with a beautiful dedication. It opened a new door for me. The idea of vocalizing and playing at the same time was so beautiful and natural. I am not a singer and in this piece I am not singing in the traditional sense. The voice is an extension of the cello, at times merging with it and at times emerging out of it. La Voce is a piece that is about physical gestures as much as it is about the music. The haunting text is by the Italian poet Cesare Pavese, a tortured and brilliant writer who was a major literary force in post war Italy. He killed himself at the age of 42.
Following is the English translation by Geoffrey Brock:
Each day the silence of the lonely room
closes in on the gentle rustle of gestures
like air. Each day the small window is opened,
motionless, to the hushed air. The voice,
hoarse and sweet, won’t break this cool silence.
The motionless air expands like the breath
of one who speaks, then falls silent. Each day
is the same, the same voice not breaking the silence,
hoarse and always the same stillness
of memory. The bright window accompanies,
with it’s brief tremor, the calm of that time.
Each gesture jolts the calm of that time.
At the sound of that voice, the pain would return,
and the gestures, too, in the astonished air,
and words, and words, uttered so softly.
The sound of that voice would be a brief tremor
in lasting silence; even that would cause pain.
The gestures of pointless pain would return,
jolting all things in the rumble of time.
But the voice won’t return, and the distant whisper
won’t ripple memory’s surface. A cool tremor
runs through the still light. In the memory of that time,
the soft, hoarse silence falls silent for good.
WORLD TO COME
David and I have been collaborating for ten years since the beginning of my “Bang on a Can” period. He is a personal friend and I feel this piece is a personal gift. Yet sometimes the most personal becomes utterly universal. Such is the case with World To Come. It is an astonishing visceral work of 24 minutes that is an emotional rollercoaster. The piece was conceived during the time immediately following September 11, 2001, and though not directly related, the destruction, devastation and disillusion of that moment no doubt impacted it.
David Lang writes: “A cellist and her voice become separated from each other, and they struggle to reunite in a post-apocalyptic spiritual environment. World To Come is a kind of prayer – introspective and highly personal. It is a meditation on hope and hopelessness, asking fundamental questions about the death and life of the soul.”