Jeffrey Zeigler's pandemic project expands the concept of a solo album
By David Templeton for Strings Magazine
November /December 2021 issue
In the early days of the pandemic, with vast expanses of unexpected time suddenly on many people’s hands, some decided to use that time to do something they’d never previously felt the freedom to do. While certain folks caught up on bingewatching TV shows and reading all the latest mystery novels, others devoted themselves to long-planned creative projects, from writing one of those novels themselves to memorizing swaths of classic poetry, from learning to play Beatles tunes on the ukulele to learning to speak another language. One magazine journalist taught himself to tie balloon animals.
New York–based cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, already widely known for pushing boundaries and breaking conventions, decided to spend his quarantine time collaborating with his wife, composer Paola Prestini, on a project they’d often discussed but never quite gotten around to. They set out to make one of the greatest and most ambitious solo cello albums of all time. “ This,” says Zeigler, simply, “is the biggest solo cello album I could ever imagine.”
Houses of Zodiac: Poems for Cello—released in digital format in September 2021, with a planned vinyl release set for January of 2022—features five pieces written by Prestini, all for solo cello: Océano, Eight Takes, Ophelia, Houses of Zodiac, and We Breathe Again. On the album, Prestini’s gorgeous and mysterious, hypnotically complex compositions, performed by Zeigler with daredevil intensity and a kind of surgical “mad doctor” precision, are presented alongside thematically crucial “interludes”—brief passages of recited poetry, spoken aloud, inventively underscored by new arrangements of music from the soundtrack of the 2017 documentary We Breathe Again, which Prestini also scored, with vocals by the sensational Inuk folksinger Tanya Tagaq.
The album is a stunner.
Its melodically experimental soundscapes, paired with the words of poets Pablo Neruda, Brenda Shaughnessy, Natasha Trethewey, and Anaïs Nin, make a clear and extremely successful attempt at blowing the minds of adventurous music lovers. It’s as if Prestini and Zeigler intentionally attempted to do for the cello what Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon did for rock ’n’ roll. Seriously, this is the kind of album you’ll want to listen to on vinyl, lying on the carpet with an excellent pair of headphones, merging into the music like pearl divers plunging into the ocean.
Zeigler, formerly of the Kronos Quartet, resists such appraisals—“That’s a very tall comparison,” he says with a laugh—but does allow that he and Prestini knew they were doing more than just cutting some tracks of cello music. !e inclusion of an accompanying video, directed by awardwinning filmmaker Murat Eyuboglu, is evidence enough of the couple’s ambitions for the project, but when you add an immersive museum/studio installation combining spoken word, movement, music, and image to explore the human subconscious through mind, body, and nature, it’s pretty clear this was never going to be a recording you simply listen to in the background while folding the clothes.
Read full article in String Magazine here.