For the last few hundred years, the sound of the cello has been firmly entrenched in Western classical music, but its roots go back to some exotic places. The Byzantine lyra and the Arab rabab from the ninth and 10th centuries are early ancestors. Now a new CD features the cello in a musical exploration of those Middle Eastern roots.

(Soundbite of music)

Israeli cellist Maya Beiser plays modern pieces by Armenian, Kurdish-Iranian, American and English composers on her new CD, "Provenance." She joins us from our New York bureau. Welcome to the program, Maya.

Ms. MAYA BEISER (Cellist): Thank you, Liane. Happy to be here.

HANSEN: It's nice to have you. I was reading about the music on this CD and I read it was inspired by the Golden Age of medieval Spain. What's the connection?

Ms. BEISER: Well, actually, there's a personal connection. I grew up in the lower Galilee Mountain in Israel in a Jewish village, a kibbutz, you know, a farm, a commune farm which was nestled somewhere between Nazareth and the River Jordan. We were surrounded by all these different cultures around us. There was Bedouins, which are the nomads - the Arab nomads - some Muslims, some Christians, some Druze, and this was really my first musical memories were from hearing the sound of the muezzin, the call to prayer coming through.

So, I wanted to go back to those early memories. And I was looking for a period in history that I felt was somewhat parallel to that and mirrored those experiences that I had, and started to read a lot about that period between the ninth and 15th century in Spain, where under Muslim rule, Jews and Christians lived together and created some phenomenal art. So this was the connection, it's my own personal connection, and then that period that I felt was important for me to explore.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: You are a classically trained cellist and you've appeared on some of the most prestigious stages. How did your classical training inform your playing this kind of material?

Ms. BEISER: Well, you know, I think one must have that kind of basic classical training which is really about just how to approach the instrument, and just let you have the technique that then allows you to sort of go beyond and really explore whatever it is that you want to explore artistically and musically. But later on, in my early years as an adult and late adolescence, I decided that I wanted to explore all kinds of music with my cello and not just the Western classical, and bring that different kind of music to my audience.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: There's a piece called "Only Breath."

Ms. BEISER: Uh-huh.

HANSEN: And if it weren't for some subtle electronics, a little bit of multi-track layering, the last bit sounds like it could've been taken straight out of a classical concerto.

Ms. BEISER: Well, that's right.

HANSEN: Is it?

Ms. BEISER: Yeah. Well, you know, it's interesting. That piece was the one piece on the album that was a collaboration with a wonderful composer friend of mine by the name of Doug Cuomo, who's an American composer but who became very interested in this project that I was doing, and also in Sufi chant from that period which we're talking about in Spain. And, in fact, Doug and I went to Spain together with our families and we lived there for a summer, exploring all the different music that we could find. And, yeah, I think in that piece he really sort of took it all the way from - and kind of goes back towards the end to the classical roots.

(Soundbite of song, "Only Breath")

HANSEN: I think they're a lot of people who might know Douglas Cuomo but don't know that they know him. He was the one who composed the theme for "Sex And The City."

Ms. BEISER: That's right. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: I'm speaking with Maya Beiser. Her new CD is called "Provenance."

This CD ends - boy, you really get to rock out on the final cut.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: And there's a reason why. This is Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir."

(Soundbite of song, "Kashmir")

Ms. BEISER: You know, it was not meant originally to be part of this album. But by chance I was working with my friend Evan Ziporyn on the arrangement for "Kashmir" for something else. And as I started to dug into it, I realized that it just needs to go on this album because, you know, "Kashmir" is that one rock tune that actually goes to the Middle East.

You know, the Led Zeppelin guys went to Morocco to explore the music of the Middle East. And the whole second part of the song has this long improvisation in maqam actually, in this, you know, Arabic scale.

(Soundbite of song, "Kashmir")

Ms. BEISER: I thought what a great way for me to kind of, you know, rock with my cello, which is something I always love to do, but also to connect it to all those things. And to - because, you know, ultimately I want to create music that is, you know, that looks at the past but that has relevance to our lives today. So I felt like it would be a fun thing to do to end with "Kashmir."

HANSEN: Maya Beiser, her new CD is called "Provenance" and she joined us from our New York bureau. Thank you so much.

Ms. BEISER: Thank you, Liane.

(Soundbite of song, "Kashmir")

HANSEN: You can hear full songs from Maya Beiser's new album at

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