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Q&A with Zola Jesus


Zola Jesus discusses her development as an artist and her January 7 Ecstatic Music Festival performance with wild Up and William Brittelle.

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What excites you the most about being a part of the 2019 Ecstatic Music Festival?
I love how it champions new, exciting territories within contemporary and avant-garde chamber music. It’s great to be a part of a festival that foregrounds experimental music. Very rare these days!

For your January 7 Ecstatic Music Festival performance, you're collaborating with wild Up and William Brittelle. What should audiences should expect from this performance?
My collaboration with William Brittelle is a revision of [Purcell's] "Dido’s Lament." It’s very collaborative! William and I have very different styles, but watching them converge has been really interesting and fun. Watch Zola Jesus and William Brittelle discuss their collaboration.

How did you first get into music/performing?
It was a very idiosyncratic desire… As a baby I was always singing and plunking away on our family piano. I begged my parents to enroll me in piano, and then violin, and then classical voice (which stuck).

Did you have a mentor or someone you learned from professionally, and if so can you tell us about your relationship with them?
My mentor is my vocal coach, Erin Philleo. She has been my guide into the repertoire, technique, passion and discipline of opera and classical voice. I’ve been working with her on and off since I was 10 years old. Erin has been such an important part of my practice and development as a musician. I have so much respect and gratitude for my relationship with her.

Is there a particular life experience that has had an effect on you as an artist?
My relationship with my voice has been a huge marker for my path as an artist. At first, it was about trying to be the next Maria Callas. Then, it was about rejecting the stringent technique and limits of operatic singing. That allowed me to push my voice and my art into new directions. And since, I have returned to the rigorous study and practice of classical singing, which has helped bring my voice, as well as my art, into new territories. Because that has always been my most cherished instrument, it tends to carve the path I lead as an artist.

What is something interesting that audiences might not know about you?
I write and produce my own music. I think sometimes people assume my project is a band or others produce for me, but it’s something I take a lot of pride and spend most of my time doing when I’m in the studio!