There are many brilliant cello virtuosos in the world, but Maya Beiser is among the most exciting. Playing across genres and collaborating with a diverse range of artists, she has pushed the boundaries of the cello and opened the canon of cello music to new technical and electronic tools. So it's more than a little interesting that her new recording returns to the core work in the old canon: Johann Sebastian Bach's suites for solo cello. GBH's All Things Considered host Arun Rath sat down with Beiser to discuss her sublime record, "Infinite Bach". What follows is a lightly edited transcript.

Arun Rath: The first thing I want to say is that this is kind of a local, homegrown record. You recorded this in your converted barn in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. And I want you to first tell us about that barn, because the way you write about this in the liner notes, it's almost like the barn is one of the stars of this record.

Maya Beiser: You know, it actually is. In 2021, my partner and I found ourselves like everybody else, right? And during the pandemic, everything stopped. I was in the middle of a 40-city tour with the wonderful dancer Wendy Whalen. Then, everything just came to a halt, and I was in New York City. And we were starting to escape the city and going upstate mostly to the Hudson area. And one day, this house came on the market not far from Tanglewood [Music Center in Lenox, MA]. And we saw the house, which I immediately knew had to be ours, and we got it.

It's a gorgeous, gorgeous place, an old farm. But it had this converted barn, which was used as a guest house. And the first day I went into the house and that barn, and I just was compelled to take my cello and start playing. The acoustics in that place was just incredible. The combination of the acoustics and the scenery and just everything about it made me go towards Bach, and I thought, well, maybe this place can somehow help me conceive a new way to come into these seven old pieces and that's how it began.

I really wanted to have the space teach me about where I'm going with this music. And I brought my sound engineer, who has been my collaborator for the last 15 years, and we just started to explore the possibilities. I decided right away that I was going to have this open-ended experiment with this music and not settle on anything. So I gave myself a year to just work there whenever I had the time and record and rerecord, and deconstruct and reconstruct, and, you know, just do a lot of experiments with different spatial ideas of the microphones.

We put tons of different microphones around the room in different positions, and we recorded just a one cello line. But what I wanted to do is record it in multitrack so that we can create all these different harmonics and natural overtones, and capture all the sounds of the room that emerges out of this one lone cello and try to bring it all in. The recording is also going to be available in spatial audio, where you can really get into that, hopefully get a little bit of the feel of the space. But that was the beginning of this journey, which was a year-long kind of exploration.

Rath: I have to tell people... Well, first off, buy the record, but make sure you listen on the best speakers or a set of great headphones, because it really is an immersive experience. You don't think of a barn as an intimate space, but it just really surrounds you.

Beiser: It does. I know. And I'm really happy with the way it came out. And, you know, when we started, I told Dave Cook, my sound engineer, that I don't even know if I wanted to release it. I wasn't sure if I wanted to release it as an album or some other format. I had this idea that I wanted to create 100 different versions of each of the tracks. So there's six suites and six movements in each of the suites, and there are 36 tracks all together. I wanted to do a hundred different versions of each one of them.

You know, this is one of the things that I've always felt torn about with making a recording is that—that's why, by the way, I'm calling it "Infinite Bach"—because I really believe that there are infinite possibilities of how this music can be experienced, how it can be created, how it could be recreated. I believe that our experience of music is completely and wholly subjective, like we hear and feel music and how we react to certain chords, how we react to the melodic material or the rhythmical pattern. You know, all these things, how we experience this music, which is really the form, the most abstract form of art, right, is so unique to each one of us. I wanted to just kind of try to find a way to get into this music on a very personal and very intimate way and clear my palate, so to speak, and take away the weight of the tradition, all the all the great recordings of the Bach suites that came before me. Not to negate them, but rather to just try to find my own way into it.

My belief was that if I find this super personal connection somehow, then other people will find their own through the recording. And so that's kind of what we did. Then, after about six months or so, I started to feel like, okay, I think there's a record of the Bach suites. I haven't changed a note, but it still is something really quite different than any other recording that's been out there.

Rath: I have to tell you that it certainly landed that way for me. I mean, I love this music. I've got a lot of different recordings of the Bach cello suites, and even though I've listened so many times, at one point it took me by surprise. Like I was just sobbing—

Beiser: Oh, my God. I'm so happy to hear that because I was sobbing a lot while I was recording this. But, you know, I don't know which one made you made you cry--

Rath: It was number 5 in C minor, the fourth.

Maya: Oh, the song, "The Sarabande". So that one. Yes. Because that one is is the most… Yeah.

I told my partner, my husband, after we finished the record that, you know, when I die, could you play this one on my grave? I think that's the one I want. But yeah, so all I did with that one is I just slowed it down and I added a drone. You know, Bach didn't write it with the drone. But I've experimented a lot with doing drones and I thought it would just be so interesting to juxtapose this really low melodic material, but against the drone of the C. We spent a whole day experimenting with different ways of creating the drone.

I should tell you Arun, everything in this recording is recorded in acoustic live. I really try to create all these different sounds without coming in with any kind of electronic manipulation. But I think there is that feeling of this recording, or at least I hope so, that you really sense the live element of it. That was the thing that, in the end, convinced me that I'm going to be okay with letting it go to the world.