Past Forward: Paola Prestini
Incorporating powerful visual and dramatic components, composer Paola Prestini’s multimedia creations address such extra-musical issues as conservation, astrophysics, and politics. Her works includes commissions by Carnegie Hall, the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, New York City Opera, and Kronos Quartet.
American Composers Orchestra speaks with Prestini about her new piece, The Hotel That Time Forgot, an ACO commission with support from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, which premieres in Zankel Hall on Friday, March 24. The Hotel That Time Forgot also features visuals by Mami Kosemura.
American Composers Orchestra: You write that in The Hotel That Time Forgot, you wanted to create a sonic orchestral world to relive the memories of The Grand Hotel Palmyra, a hotel in Lebanon across the border from Syria that has not closed its doors since opening in 1894, even as war has raged just outside its doors. Can you talk about these memories and how they are represented in the piece?
Paola Prestini: The memories are observed through flashes in the video [by Mami Kosemura], which is distilled through a keyhole. A mother pouring water to wash oneself in a basin, a suspended chandelier crystal, a child playing, shadows. Everyday action is presented motivically throughout the work and is then deconstructed. Slides in the music are meant to dissolve memories and to mimic the distortion in the film.
Watch a short documentary about The Grand Hotel Palmyra that inspired Paola to write this piece.
ACO: The passing of time seems to be a major theme in your subject material, and also the visuals by Mami Kosemura – you write that "a pendulum gives the viewer the sense of loss of time, and blurred memories." Can you talk about how time, maybe more specifically this pendulum, is represented in the music?
PP: The Pendulum swings in 45 second installments, and this became a defining structural pillar of the piece. The vibraphone is used as time “hits” to give the sense of a clock striking on the hour. The pendulum lends a certain static quality to the work – I wanted to give the viewer a keyhole look into the joy, anxieties, and subtleties of everyday life, with no apex in the music. The actions continue, time never stands still, and even though memories distort and blur and fade, the pendulum of time continues. The irony and tragedy is that Hotel Palmyra will most likely not continue forever, as it is in a warn torn zone. I had hoped to one day visit, but for now, the stills I’ve seen and film specials on the beauty of the hotel are what I had to go on.
ACO: Can you talk about your composing process for The Hotel That Time Forgot? How long have you been working on it? What have been the milestones and challenges throughout the process?
PP: I have been working on the piece for several months – with Mami conceptually first, and then, as a response to the work. I had a language that I created away from the film, and once I had written that out on the piano, I then worked with the film in mind, orchestrating and fleshing out the music, while keying into specific moments and key points I wanted to emphasize in the visuals.
David Hertzberg, Paola Prestini, Trevor Weston, Steve Reich
|Friday, March 24 at 7:30 PM
American Composers Orchestra
Acclaimed for “consistently champion[ing] contemporary music with consistent excellence” (The New York Times), American Composers Orchestra showcases two premieres—one commissioned by Carnegie Hall—by two cutting-edge composers and a classic from Steve Reich, Tehillim (Hebrew for “psalms”). Inspired by cantillation he heard in Israel, Reich sets four psalms in an exotically scored and rhythmically invigorating work that pulses with life and is considered one of the modern master’s most thrilling compositions.