New project from opera superstar Jessye Norman, performance inspired by photographer Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills, music from composers Daniel Bernard Roumain, Julian Wachner, Angélica Negrón, and much more

New York, NY (July 30, 2018) — With its largest and most diverse group of residencies, curators, and series to date, National Sawdust – the music incubator and venue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn – today announced highlights of its fourth groundbreaking season, featuring a mix of veteran and emerging artists, festivals and cross-genre collaborations. Providing a crucial platform for artists underrepresented by mainstream institutions, National Sawdust’s new season features the premiere or development of more than 25 new works, allowing audiences unprecedented access to bold new music and innovative creative voices.

Highlights from the Season Include:

A fundraiser, featuring a roster of luminaries from across the artistic spectrum, for opera legend Jessye Norman’s new project, Sissieretta Jones, an immersive operatic experience exploring the life of the first African American to sing at Carnegie Hall, co-produced by National Sawdust Projects.

The season opening weekend featuring the world premiere collaboration between pioneer composer Terry Riley, recognized for his “brightly insistent music” (New York Times), and LCD Soundsystem analogue “synth wizard” (NPR) Gavina Rayna Russom (Sep 15).

Cuban composer Tania León, who has “played an active role in shaping American musical life” (New York Times), and composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, who channels “everything from Bach to Gladys Knight” (NPR), joining National Sawdust as Curators spotlighting the role of race and gender in music.

Joan Tower and Friends, a concert co-presented by Chris Grymes in honor of Joan Tower’s 80th birthday, featuring an afternoon of curation by the Grammy-winning contemporary composer and exclusively comprising works by female composers, including Jennifer Higdon, Tania León, and Julia Wolfe (Nov 11).

Film Stills, a new project developed at National Sawdust featuring opera singer Eve Gigliotti presenting original pieces by Du Yun, Missy Mazzoli, Nico Muhly, Paola Prestini and others, inspired by photographer Cindy Sherman’s series Untitled Film Stills (Spring 2019); and avant-garde cellist Amanda Gookin’s Forward Music Project 2.0, presenting new works by six female composers that address issues such as sex positivity, trans rights, and gender non-conformity (Spring 2019).

National Sawdust’s Artists-in-Residence program, presenting twelve new artists and works, including a new composition by Trinity Wall Street Music Director Julian Wachner performed by the Aizuri Quartet; the premiere of award-winning composer Angélica Negrón’s new drag opera, Chimera; composer Julia Adolphe’s new comedic opera, A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears; and more.

NationalSawdust+, the performance and conversation series curated by Elena Park, which returns with directors Gary Ross and Claudia Solti, opera star Joyce DiDonato, Olympic figure skater Sasha Cohen, Emily Nemens (of the Paris Review) and Chris Jackson (of One World); plus the debut of Paul Muldoon's new literary-music series, Against the Grain, with writers Jennifer Egan and Kevin Young and electronic duo Matmos (Nov 15), presented in association with London Review of Books.

A concert collaboration between violinist, violist, and founding Curator of National Sawdust Miranda Cuckson, a “champion of new music” who is recognized for playing “complex works with charismatic devotion” (New York Times), and composer and pianist Michael Hersch, “one of the most prominent composers in the country, [who] writes masterly modernist music of implacable seriousness” (New Yorker) and “a natural musical genius who continues to surpass himself” (Washington Post). For over a decade, Cuckson has been one of the most trusted interpreters of Hersch’s work. Now, in a rare collaboration, Hersch joins Cuckson on stage to present selections from his oeuvre, including selections from in the snowy margins, Fourteen Pieces, and more (Sep 18).

A performance entitled Art of the In-Between, created by newly announced National Sawdust Curator and “punk ballerina” Karole Armitage, a dancer, choreographer, and the Artistic Director of the New York-based Armitage Gone! Dance Company (Oct 20). Armitage is known for her “fiercely pure” style that “presents the performers as molten steel cooling into stunning shapes” (Village Voice). Art of the In-Between, featuring music by Fats Waller, Terry Dame, Wyclef Jean and more, celebrates Mexico’s rich mixture of indigenous and European cultures, with two original dance pieces: Día de los Muertos – a joyful, subversive comedy of screwball surrealism for a gang of dancing skeletons – and Donkey Jaw Bone – a piece inspired by the theatrical Mexican wrestling form Lucha Libre and accompanied by pre-Columbian instruments bringing the penetrating sounds of Nahuatl music to the stage.

Paola Prestini, composer, Co-founder and Artistic Director of National Sawdust, explains: “The music in Season Four includes National Sawdust’s trademark blend of veteran composers and discovery artists, mentorship, and a deep sense of rigor across styles. We are in a true golden age of new music, and I believe it is the responsibility of venues, curators, and lovers of the performing arts to stand behind the artists who ignite this creativity.”

Opening Night Concert

Season Four officially kicks off with a night devoted to new music from minimalist composer Terry Riley, celebrated as a "pioneering American composer" and "guru of American music" (New York Times), and a Founding Artistic Advisory Board member of National Sawdust. On Saturday, September 15 at 7:00 pm, Riley will share the stage with Trinity Wall Street’s renowned ensembles NOVUS NY and The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, led by “viscerally dramatic” (New York Times) composer-conductor and National Sawdust Artist-in-Residence Julian Wachner, to perform Madrigal (2015), Archangels (2003), and Remember This, O Mind (1997). Then, at 10:00 pm, the revered composer will share the stage with Gavin Rayna Russom for an otherworldly, improvised collaborative performance.

Leading Names & Emerging Artists in New Music

The National Sawdust Artists-in-Residence program provides invaluable support to artists and projects at early and transitional stages in their development. Artists receive commissioning and performance opportunities, access to rehearsal and recording time, the opportunity to explore collaborations with one another, and the potential to tour their projects. Projects are given the space and time necessary to be formulated, workshopped, revised, and recorded.

National Sawdust is proud to announce J. Hoard, Thea Little, PUBLIQuartet, Julian Wachner, Innov Gnawa, L’Rain, and Gavin Rayna Russom as 2018-2019 Artists-in-Residence. Grammy Award-winning songwriter and “Brooklyn vocal marvel” (Deli Magazine) J. Hoard expands his scope as arranger and performer, using National Sawdust’s Artists-in-Residence platform to expand the unique sound he has been cultivating in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side. Brooklyn-based performer, choreographer, musician, composer, and director Thea Little, recognized for her exploratory dance pieces, will examine relevant social topics such as feminism, queerness, and social class with her new movement pieces. PUBLIQuartet, recognized as “a perfect encapsulation of today’s trends in chamber music” (Washington Post) will curate three concerts throughout the season—the first featuring music by Andy Akiho, the second celebrating women in music, and culminating with premieres of new works by emerging composers in response to our environment on Earth Day, April 22, 2019. Julian Wachner, Director of Music and the Arts at Trinity Wall Street since 2011 and an “emphatic and theatrical” conductor (Washington Post), is also the composer of an extensive catalogue of music from chamber and choral to opera; at National Sawdust he marks his first residency as a composer. Grammy-nominated musical collective Innov Gnawa will create and record contemporary gnawa music – ritual trance music of formerly enslaved black Africans assimilated into Moroccan culture; experimental composer and multi-instrumentalist L’Rain, praised for her “beautiful, untidy” songs that “seem to softly wander and change shape” (Pitchfork), will develop her unique blend of electronica and R&B exploring the complexity of grief and the audacity of joy; and LCD Soundsystem’s “tech wizard” (SF Weekly) Gavin Rayna Russom will use her residency to build upon her innovative work as a solo artist, developing a new multimedia production using analog and digital synthesizers, video, and dance.

National Sawdust Projects-in-Residence helps established artists and composers to actualize a concept or further explore a piece currently in development. This season’s National Sawdust Projects-in-Residence include cellist Amanda Gookin’s Forward Music Project 2.0, which features six newly commissioned cello pieces from female composers, as well as video and production design by Katy Tucker, exploring topics such as sex positivity, trans rights, pleasure and pain, gender non-conformity, fashion and dignity, hysteria, BDSM, and more; a new comedic opera entitled A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears by composer Julia Adolphe – renowned for being “alive with invention” (New Yorker) – developed with librettist Stephanie Fleischmann; Chimera, a chamber opera featuring seven different drag performers portraying the same character, by composer and multi-instrumentalist Angélica Negrón; and Resonant Theatre: The Sonic Great Wall by “one of the world’s leading young composers” (New Yorker) Huang Ro. This sonic, spatial, visual, and audience-interactive project inspired by the Great Wall of China aims to demolish barriers and boundaries through moving sounds, words, and movements, and will be performed in collaboration with the Amsterdam-based Asko/Schoenberg Ensemble at National Sawdust’s annual FERUS Festival.

National Sawdust Curators are a diverse group of celebrated master artists from across musical genres who program their own work as well as that of artists they admire. Curators program several evenings throughout the year, generously using their own success to build audiences for emerging or undiscovered artists. Renowned Cuban-born and award-winning composer Tania León will curate shows featuring female Latina artists who are often artistically and culturally underrepresented in the mainstream classical music world. Daniel Bernard Roumain – whose recent chamber opera We Shall Not Be Moved was named "The Best Classical Performance of 2017” by the New York Times – will, as an affiliate of Arizona State University’s National Accelerator for Cultural Innovation and Inclusion program, join National Sawdust in a mentoring partnership to highlight inclusivity and create space for discourse about the role of race in society through music. American Modern Opera Company (AMOC) curates shows that will bridge theory and practice to create a deep context from which to listen to stories, ideas, and music of the past. Music event producers AdHoc will bring the Brooklyn aesthetic to the National Sawdust stage with shows including Majical Cloudz, Low, Andy Shauf, Trevor Powers, and more; and dancer and choreographer Karole Armitage, the Artistic Director of the New York-based Armitage Gone! Dance Company, completes the roster of Curators (see Highlights section above).

National Sawdust Series

Giving audiences an opportunity for long-term and in-depth explorations of specific styles, genres and topics, National Sawdust Series include AFROPUNK’s new Liberation Sessions, featuring local Brooklyn artists addressing issues surrounding sex, gender, and race; a series overseen by Brooklyn-based institution RVNG exploring an intersection of present and pioneering musicians operating in avant-garde realms; The Revolution, highlighting the newest emerging sounds from Brooklyn and Harlem; Jazz for Kids, the original National Sawdust series introducing children to world of music; John Zorn Presents: The Stone Commissioning Series, which honors the spirit of The Stone by presenting the world premiere of new experimental, avant-garde works on the last Wednesday of each month; and NationalSawdust+, curated by Elena Park.


Three major National Sawdust Festivals, lasting anywhere from a day to a week and focused on a central theme, take place over the course of the 2018-19 season. On October 6, the Resonator Festival will showcase the sounds of hip-hop, R&B, soul, and rock with collaborations between up-and-coming local artists and more established names. In January, National Sawdust will host the annual FERUS Festival, celebrating new voices in new music. And in the spring, National Sawdust presents the second annual Pan Asia Music Festival, curated by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Du Yun.


Part of the National Sawdust mission is to provide support to emerging composers and artists from diverse backgrounds. In the 2018-19 season, the institution hosts the second annual Hildegard Competition. With support from the Toulmin Foundation, the Hildegard Competition supports emerging female and nonbinary composers, annually selecting three winners to each receive a $7,000 cash prize, a performance and recording by a National Sawdust group in residence, and coaching and mentorship by three critically acclaimed composers.

Also underlining a commitment to education and the support of early-stage artists, National Sawdust is thrilled to partner with community human rights organization El Puente for the Very Young Composers concert, presented with the New York Philharmonic, which unlocks and empowers the natural artistry, musicianship, and creativity inherent in virtually all children, regardless of economic circumstance, race, gender, or nationality. Led by composer Angélica Negrón – who “marches to her own strangely timed beat” with work that “ranges from the electro-pop of her Puerto Rican underground band Balún to avant garde compositions for film and symphonic performance” (Paste Magazine) – the program builds personal confidence and leadership, cultivates a deeper understanding of music, and inspires tomorrow’s composers to create the music of the future.

Finally, National Sawdust proudly announces Summer Labs, an initiative that seeks out emerging musicians in the Brooklyn community to receive four hours of practice time in our state-of-the-art venue, a 30-minute performance at National Sawdust, and the potential to be considered for future mentorship opportunities at National Sawdust, including the Artists-in-Residence program. Beyond The Factory Walls

National Sawdust Projects incubates and produces more than a dozen new works every year, with the goal of breaking these productions out of the venue’s factory walls and bringing them to a global stage. This year, National Sawdust is thrilled to announce that the following projects will tour to the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts, Classical: Next in Rotterdam, and other locations: We Were Fridays by multi-genre cellist Jeffrey Zeigler in collaboration with Daniel Bernard Roumain, about restlessness and running away from complex legacies; Forward Music Project by avant-garde cellist Amanda Gookin; and composer Andy Akiho’s Miyamoto is Black Enough.


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