QUESTIONNAIRE 3: MAYA BEISER / WILLIAM SUSMAN
It gives textura great pleasure to feature in its third questionnaire two highly regarded artists, cellist Maya Beiser and Octet Ensemble founder William Susman.
My first exposure to Maya Beiser is one I'll never forget. Attending London's Meltdown Festival in 1994, I had the wonderful opportunity to see works by composers such as Steve Martland, Gavin Bryars, and Louis Andriessen performed by Icebreaker, Bang On A Can All-Stars, Piano Circus, and others. But one of the most memorable moments arrived when Beiser, the founding cellist of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, shook the hall with a searing performance of Michael Gordon's solo cello piece Industry. Celebrated for her virtuosity and eclectic repertoire, Beiser's electrified a great many of the world's stages, among them the Sydney Opera House, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and the World Expo in Nagoya, Japan, and the Yale University graduate has collaborated with figures such as Tan Dun, Brian Eno, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and David Lang. Always the provocateur, Beiser doesn't feature contemporary classical works on her latest album, Uncovered, but instead re-imaginings of rock classics by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Nirvana, and King Crimson (reviewed here).
My latest recording: Uncovered—Art Rock re-imagined with the many voices of my cello.
On the horizon: Making my Prague solo debut, performing “Films For Cello” at MoMA in New York, touring my “All Vows” project, starting work on a new album, working on several new cello concertos (Mark-Anthony Turnage and Mohammed Fairouz, among others), developing a new multi-media project with David Lang, working on a new solo evening with Julia Wolfe, …
The biggest change in my music since my career began: Integrating electronics with my acoustic cello, reinventing my sound.
The thing that most distinguishes my music or sound from others: I think it is for others to say. But if you ask me what I hear in my sound, I'll say I hear warm, lush, expansive sound that has the traces of ancient cultures melded with the scope of futuristic evolution.
The thing I'm most trying to communicate in my music: No boundaries. Music has the power to transform us and make us feel alive.
What musically I'm most proud of: Defining a new path for solo cello performance. Rethinking traditional conventions, exploring daring and risky new ideas. Touching people, making them feel beauty.
A favorite piece of music when I was a child: Jacques Brel's “Ne me quitte pas”…I know…
A piece of music I wish I'd written: The third movement of Beethoven's String Quartet Opus 132—pure genius that seizes you right at the core.
A memorable concert I attended: Miles Davis in 1987, performing at the old Roman Amphitheater in Caesarea, north of Tel Aviv, Israel. He came on stage with a helicopter and took off before the show was over. It was totally magical. He seemed like a Roman God to me.
The artist with whom I'd love to collaborate: Yoko Ono, a fascinating artist and an earnest humanitarian.
The artist or musical piece people would be surprised to learn I love: Madonna. I love who she is as a woman, artist—sexy and powerful. She took on many sacred cows in our Western popular culture.
Who I've been influenced by most: My parents, my kids, my husband, my close friends, and collaborators.
The best advice I've received: The late cellist Mstislav Rostropovich once told me, “Performing music is about feeling the silences between the notes.” He was right.
What I'm listening to now: Aphex Twin the past few days. Also, some new King Crimson material I just discovered.
My idea of perfect happiness: When the people I love are happy.
If I could time-travel and give my fourteen-year-old self one bit of advice, it would be: Don't be afraid of being yourself. Go for it! The world will catch up eventually.
The music I want played at my funeral: The Adagio from Schubert's String Quintet D. 956 in C.
My motto or philosophy: Lead with your heart and don't take anything for granted.
William Susman is your classic multi-hyphenate—a composer, label founder (Belarca, in 2012), and Octet Ensemble artistic director and keyboardist. His formal background includes a stint at IRCAM plus music composition at the University of Illinois and computer-generated sound at Stanford, and he's composed orchestral music as well as scores for award-winning films. The music he writes for the Octet Ensemble and which is so effectively captured on the group's inaugural CD Scatter My Ashes (reviewed here) is a genre-transcending fusion of contemporary Western classical, jazz, pop, and non-Western folk musics.
My latest recording: Scatter My Ashes, released on Belarca Records, an album that uses a unique instrumentation to perform contemporary classical music.
On the horizon: An opera about Henry Ford, a family drama about love, power, and betrayal, and a solo piano album featuring music by several composers and selections from my series Quiet Rhythms.
The biggest change in my music since my career began: I went from writing atonal to tonal music.
The thing that most distinguishes my music or sound from others: The use of harmonic and rhythmic patterns taken from a variety of genres and cultures.
The thing I'm most trying to communicate in my music: Emotions and visualizations. For example, Camille, a piece on Scatter My Ashes, expresses vitality, tranquility, and triumph.
What musically I'm most proud of: Quiet Rhythms: four books of music for solo piano.
A favourite piece of music when I was a child: Chopin's Waltz in Ab. My mother used to play it, and it gave me a feeling of serenity.
A piece of music I wish I'd written: Stella By Starlight by Victor Young. It contains a unique harmonic pattern that for me evokes a sense of drifting and floating.
A memorable concert I attended: Norman Granz's Pablo Jazz concert at the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago. I can still remember the lineup: Joe Pass, Joe Pass and Oscar Peterson, Oscar Peterson and Count Basie on two grand pianos with Butch Miles on Drums, and finally Joe Williams and the Count Basie Orchestra.
The artist with whom I'd love to collaborate: Choreographers Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon of the NederlandsDans Theater. Every time I see this dance company and their work I am inspired.
The artist or musical piece people would be surprised to learn I love: Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys. It's fun and energetic.
Who I've been influenced by most: Arnold Schoenberg, his life and music.
The best advice I've received: Be patient.
What I'm listening to now: All kinds of opera both old and new.
My idea of perfect happiness: A dinner in our backyard with friends and family that my wife and I have spent hours putting together.
If I could time-travel and give my fourteen-year-old self one bit of advice, it would be: Absorb as much music as possible and diversify your interests.
The music I want played at my funeral: Selections from Quiet Rhythms and my choral piece Salaam Alaykum, Shalom Alaychem which means "Peace be Upon You."
My motto or philosophy: Write what speaks your truth.