Daniel Stephen Johnson was born in the desert and learned to play the violin. After studying viola and English at the University of Southern California, he wrote fiction at Columbia University. Then he moved to Connecticut, where he worked at a record shop and wrote about music, literature and comedy for the New Haven Advocate and the Believer. Now he lives in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and works as a sheet music salesman in Queens. Follow Daniel on Twitter at @linernotesdanny.
Paola Prestini: Composition as Poetry and Choreography
The Multimedia-Minded Voice Behind VisionIntoArt Introduces Her Catalogue
Saturday, February 04, 2012
For decades, rising composers, young composers working in aesthetics not yet embraced by the mainstream institutions of classical music—concert halls, symphony orchestras, universities—have had to find audiences by building and leading their own, brand new institutions. Paola Prestini has helped to build and lead VisionIntoArt, a multimedia performing arts collective, building bridges between the worlds of music, film, dance, theater, and poetry.
And so it's appropriate that, while she may have trained at Juilliard, Prestini's music maintains the fresh, intuitive sound of someone who views the act of composing from a perspective somewhere outside it—of a composer who thinks like a filmmaker, a poet, or a visual artist. She writes as if anything is possible, but while the vivid episodes and effects seem drawn from an infinite palette of sounds, they follow upon each other with a mysteriously inevitable dramatic logic.
Beyond that logic, what unifies these moments are Prestini's gifts for generating pure aural pleasure along both a vertical axis of beautifully blended watercolor sonorities and the horizontal axis of elegantly, affectingly constructed melodic lines.
Her knack for lyrical melody, along with her knack for multimedia collaboration, have naturally guided her towards operatic forms, including two pieces selected for New York City Opera's VOX: Contemporary American Opera Lab. Oceanic Verses, a chamber opera on the history of Italy with a libretto by the composer and film accompaniment by Ali Hossaini, was performed there in 2010. In 2011, Prestini's De Deo with librettist Donna Di Novelli, about an American visiting an Italian cathedral, was premiered through the festival at New York's (Le) Poisson Rouge.
On disc, Prestini is represented by two VisionIntoArt CDs, Sounds and Traveling Songs, and by 2008's Body Maps on John Zorn's Tzadik Records, featuring a performance of the title track by cellist Jeffrey Zeigler (Prestini's husband), vocalist Hila Plitmann, and on electric bass, Mark Vanderpoel.
And, not surprisingly, the list of other artists who have collaborated or are collaborating with Prestini, from within and without the world of music, is truly stellar: ACME, the Kronos Quartet (featuring Zeigler on cello), string quartet ETHEL, vocalist Rinde Eckert, and novelist Jonathan Safran Foer.