As a musician and performance artist who conjures fantastical dreamscapes, Cellista dwells in a liminal realm where Jungian archetypes bump up against the Brothers Grimm. But no matter how deeply she delves into the unsettling currents of the subconscious, Cellista remains tethered to home.
She relocated to Santa Monica several months ago after a decade in San Jose but returns to the South Bay this week to share her fourth album, “Pariah,” at the Anno Domini Art Gallery, “my refuge and safe space,” she said. The downtown gallery has long served as an incubator for emerging artists, and the cellist, composer and director felt it was the ideal location for a listening party.
“I may screen the film with some live scoring or some backing tracks,” she said, referring to the short video she directed for “Small Prophecies,” the new album’s centerpiece. “I’m doing a simple presentation. It’s a chance for people to be together. That space is already so full of creative force. It doesn’t need much more.”
Touring around the country with a stripped down version of “Pariah,” she returns to the Bay Area on Oct. 21 to perform at San Francisco’s DNA Lounge as part of the burlesque show Apothecary Raree. The full multimedia production premiered Oct. 1 at the Santa Monica Playhouse.
The move to L.A. is one of several major transitions she’s made lately, including legally changing her name from Freya Seeburger to her longtime stage moniker Cellista (“Women change their name all the time for men,” she noted. “This is for me. It feels like that’s who I am.”) She also earned a masters in music business from Berklee College of Music last year.
She’s returning to Anno Domini at a moment when opportunities seem to be blooming. The move to L.A. has put her in the entertainment industry mix, and she’s getting regular calls for composing assignments.
Those are bread and butter gigs, but she got a big slice of cake when Lincoln Center commissioned her to work with high school students as part of a performance focused on social justice issues and youth voices. She set text by students to music while also presenting a composition she wrote for San Jose visual artist Tulio Flores and recorded on her 2016 album “Finding San Jose.”
Cellista credits Anno Domini co-founders Brian Eder and Cherri Lakey with jump-starting her career after she realized that her surrealism-inspired creative vision didn’t fit on the straight and narrow chamber music path. The relationship began with its own fairytale logic, as they first met when she was busking outside the gallery. Lakey invited her in and offered her a gig. Anno Domini has served as her home base ever since, providing a venue for her increasingly ambitious interdisciplinary productions.
“What my partner and I are really good at is recognizing authenticity, and wanting to shine a light on it,” Lakey said. “You recognize this about Freya in two minutes. Whenever she wants to present something here, we’re really honored she’d feel that way. All the work we do is to tell those people on this really hard path being themselves that you don’t need to fit into the mold.”
In many ways “Pariah” explores the plight of the artist following her own path deep into the woods, pursued by her inner demons and people perplexed and disturbed by her strange ways. It’s a dense, philosophical work that Cellista created in collaboration with her father, Frank Seeburger, an emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Denver.
The opportunity to collaborate with him on “Pariah” was a pandemic silver lining. On tour in March 2020 performing her last project, “Transfigurations,” she had finished the dress rehearsal for a sold out show in Santa Monica when California shut down.
The sudden loss of thousands of dollars and her creative outlet put her in a tailspin, and she found refuge with her parents in Longmont, Colorado. She had worked with her father on “Transfigurations,” and he produced a 40-page book for “Pariah.”
“I did a lot of editing,” she said. “He’s a very wordy philosopher, and I got cut it down to 10 pages. The music really honed in on those ideas of otherness and exile and being cast out.”
“Pariah” includes a companion book co-written by Frank Seeburger. New York composer Daniel Felsenfeld, a mentor for Cellista, wrote the preface, and Oakland artist Jaclyn Alderete created the illustrations. Working with a majority female crew of veteran technicians like Anna Frick, who mastered the album at Skywalker Studios near Nicasio, Cellista created an immersive sonic sojourn that draws on her experience in theater.
“I loved learning to think spatially while recording,” she said. “It felt very expansive. I hope to do every album that way.”
Contact Andrew Gilbert at [email protected]
When: 6 p.m. Oct. 8
Where: Anno Domini Art Gallery, 366 S. First St., San Jose
Admission: Free; 408-271-5155, www.galleryad.com
Also: Appearing as part of Apothecary Raree, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 21 at DNA Lounge, 375 11th St., San Francisco; $13, www.dnalounge.com