Composer Paola Prestini's "Ophelia"
The piece was recently performed by Paola Prestini's husband and cellist, Jeffrey Zeigler, as part of the "Death of Classical" concert series taking place in New York City's catacombs
The piece is part of "Houses of Zodiac: Poems for Cello" — an album, film, and immersive video installation that combines spoken word, movement, music, and image to explore the intersection of mind, body, and nature.
In collaboration with her husband, cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, Paola's project was released on September 10, 2021. It takes its title from the twelve houses of the zodiac as facets of the self. The composer drew inspiration from explorations of the subconscious including the writings of Anaïs Nin (read by Maria Popova), Pablo Neruda, Brenda Shaughnessy, and Natasha Trethewey.
"I wanted to highlight women from the past who intrigued me, and also, I love creating from poetry," Paola told The Violin Channel.
"The language and imagery help bring music to life for me. I fell upon an amazing poem by Natasha Tretheway about a woman named Ophelia who is photographed in the early 1900's New Orleans by a photographer named Bellocq. Her spirit is trapped, falling, and she has a scar across her chest. That drama and fragility inspired the sound of the work, and the falling gesture is repeated in the cello as a binding motif that eventually culminates the piece, unresolved.
"The work began with a commission from the Irving Klein competition, years back. I wrote solos for each string instrument inspired by a woman from history. From Marie-Curie, to Mata-Hari, to Heloise, to Ophelia.
"When you work with someone like Jeff, the process of refining a piece becomes a beautiful collaboration. He is not just an artist I admire but someone who gets me and my style. When he decided last summer that he wanted to release all my cello works, (this is our first complete album collaboration) this was a work he jumped on, and we made some significant changes, which I think have improved the piece greatly.
"I hope they take away with them a sense of longing and a picture in sound of this woman and her experience. I hope they gain an appreciation of Jeff's artistry and craft, a desire to read the poem it came from, and that they listen to the whole album!
"Houses of Zodiac is an experience of poetry and sound with a side A and a side B. The A side contains the poems recited by each author with an underscore landscape featuring our family of collaborators ranging from Tanya Tagaq to Nels Cline, followed by the cello solos. The B side is the underscored landscape as a whole that is wordless. It is a poetic expression that underscores my relationship with Jeff-as life partners, and the best of collaborators."