National Sawdust (NS), the renowned music incubator and non-profit that “links the music to broader social issues” (Time Out New York), announced today the second annual Hildegard Competition, named for the seminal medieval composer Hildegard von Bingen. Launched last season as a platform to give female, nonbinary, and trans composers – voices often underrepresented in the world of new music – opportunities for their work to be recognized, the competition is targeted to composers in the early stages of their careers, providing them with financial resources, a public performance, recording opportunities, and mentorship from some of the most talented composers working today. For its second edition, the competition digs deeper into its own purpose: while providing mentorship and opportunities for exposure, it will also seek to uncover how gender distorts the lens through which music is perceived. Composers of winning works will each receive a $7,000 cash prize, a performance and recording by the new National Sawdust Ensemble under the baton of resident conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya, and coaching and mentorship by the judges. All Hildegard Competition winners’ music will be recorded and released on NS Tracks. The deadline for submitting scores is November 30, 2018; a press release will announce the winners in early February, and the concert featuring the winning compositions, as well as music by the runners-up, will take place in June.
Three composers acted as judges and mentors for last year’s competition: NS Artistic Director Paola Prestini; current NS Artist-in-Residence Angélica Negrón; and Pulitzer Prize-winner Du Yun, who also curates National Sawdust’s Pan Asia Music Festival. This season that roster expands to six, with the addition of opera legend Jessye Norman, for whose new project, Sissieretta Jones, National Sawdust Projects co-produces a fundraiser this season; LCD Soundsystem synthesist, analog synth designer and NS Artist-in-Residence Gavin Rayna Russom; and composer and NS Curator Tania León. In another change from last season’s model, rather than having one mentor assigned to each winner, mentoring responsibilities will be shared to give the winners the benefit of the entire broad range of musical experience represented by the pool of judges.
To qualify for the Hildegard Competition, all applicants must certify that they have met two of the following three criteria: that they have received no commissions of $5,000 or more, that there are no commercially released recordings of their work, and that there have been no performances of their work by a professional ensemble (except within a university setting). Applicants will be judged on their past compositions and on their curriculum vitae, personal statement, and description of the work they would compose if they won. In an attempt to remove the barriers traditionally faced by composers, neither letters of recommendation nor application fees are required.
The experiences of last year’s Hildegard Competition winners, X. Lee, Kayla Cashetta, and Emma O’Halloran, each illustrate in a different way the value of and necessity for this kind of targeted opportunity. For X. Lee, born female, a defining experience was being told pre-transition that “women don’t have the brains to compose.” Cashetta praises the opportunities represented by the competition, not only to have her music presented in a professional venue but also to be inspired by what Prestini emphasizes is a “peer-based mentorship” experience. O’Halloran, for her part, was in her early 20s before even encountering a composer of her gender outside popular music: “I didn’t know that was something that I could do, and as soon as I heard [the music] I said ‘This is it, this is exactly what I want to do.’”
Funding for the Hildegard Competition comes in part from a generous grant by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation.
About the judges, mentors, and conductor
Music by composer Paola Prestini – named one of Musical America’s “Top 30 Musical Innovators 2016″ and one of the “Top 35 Female Composers in Classical Music” (Washington Post) – has been commissioned by and performed at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, BAM, and London’s Barbican Centre, by groups including Brooklyn Rider, Attacca Quartet, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, and The Choir of Trinity Wall Street. She is the founding CEO and Artistic Director of National Sawdust (NS), a nonprofit Brooklyn-based space for arts incubation and performance, and the “visionary-in-chief” (Time Out New York) of VisionIntoArt, the multimedia production company she co-founded in 1999, now merged with National Sawdust.
Jessye Norman has been called “one of those once-in-a-generation singers who is not simply following in the footsteps of others, but is staking out her own niche in the history of singing” (New York Times). The sheer size, power, and luster of her voice share equal acclaim with her thoughtful music-making, innovative programming of the classics, and fervent advocacy of contemporary music. Cutting-edge collaborators have included Robert Wilson, Andre Heller, Bill T. Jones, Steve McQueen and many others. She has been the recipient of countless awards and honors, including a Kennedy Center Honor in 1997 that made her the youngest recipient in the 20-year history of the award; honorary doctorates from some thirty colleges, universities and conservatories around the world; and the French Legion d’Honneur and Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. This season, National Sawdust Projects hosts and co-produces a fundraiser, featuring a roster of luminaries from across the artistic spectrum, for her new project, Sissieretta Jones, an immersive operatic experience exploring the life of the first African American to sing at Carnegie Hall.
Gavin Rayna Russom is a New York-based multimedia artist and composer of electronic music. Using the analog and digital synthesizer she has produced a body of extremely influential art and music over the last 15 years. She is perhaps best known as the synthesist in the critically-acclaimed band LCD Soundsystem. Much of her work is informed by her deep relationship with the analog synthesizer, a tool she has applied herself to not only as a composer and player but also as a designer and builder since 1999. Part of Gavin Rayna’s vision is to combine the rigorousness of academic music and art – and its serious intentions to transform culture through its ability to communicate spiritual ideas – with the world of the club where these connect to real people’s daily lives. In addition to recording and performing music she also creates the visual elements for her work, including installations, music videos, record covers, costumes, sets and props. Russom joins National Sawdust this season as an Artist-in-Residence. Following an otherworldly, improvised collaborative performance on NS’s opening weekend with pioneer composer Terry Riley and his son Gyan, she 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. Russom came out as a trans woman in 2017.
Du Yun – born and raised in Shanghai, China, and now based in New York – is the winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Music and is a composer, performer, performance artist, curator, and activist working at the intersection of orchestral, opera, chamber music, theatre, cabaret, pop music, oral tradition, visual arts, electronics, and noise. A truly international artist with a protean artistic output, she is one of the most exciting and groundbreaking thinkers working today. Her music is championed by some of today’s finest performing artists, ensembles, orchestras, and organizations around the world.
Puerto Rican-born composer and multi-instrumentalist Angélica Negrón writes music for accordions, robotic instruments, toys, and electronics as well as chamber ensembles and orchestras. Her music has been described as “wistfully idiosyncratic and contemplative” (WQXR/Q2) and “mesmerizing and affecting” (Feast of Music), while the New York Times notes her “capacity to surprise” and “quirky approach to scoring.” Her works have been performed at the Bang on a Can Marathon, the Ecstatic Music Festival, and the 2016 NY PHIL BIENNIAL, and she has collaborated with artists like Sō Percussion, loadbang, American Composers Orchestra, and Face the Music, among others. Negrón is currently a doctoral candidate at the Graduate Center (CUNY), where she studies composition with Tania León. As a teaching artist for the New York Philharmonic’s Very Young Composers Program and Lincoln Center Education, she works with learners of all ages on creative composition projects. Negrón was the 2014–15 Van Lier Fellow at American Composers Orchestra and was selected as one of the recipients for NYFA’s 2016 Artists’ Fellowship Program. Her new drag opera, Chimera, a chamber piece featuring seven different drag performers portraying the same character, premieres as a Project-in-Residence at National Sawdust during the 2018-19 season.
Cuban-born Tania León – who has “played an active role in shaping American musical life” (New York Times) – is highly regarded as a composer and conductor and recognized for her accomplishments as an educator and advisor to arts organizations. She has been the subject of profiles on ABC, CBS, CNN, PBS, Univision (including their noted series "Orgullo Hispano" which celebrates living American Latinos whose contributions in society have been invaluable), Telemundo and in independent films. She has received composition awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the National Endowment for the Arts, Chamber Music America, NYSCA, the Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Fund, ASCAP, and Meet the Composer, among others. She has also received a Pulitzer Prize nomination, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and commissions from the Fromm Music Foundation and Koussevitsky Foundation. She joins National Sawdust as a Curator this season, spotlighting the role of race and gender in music with concerts featuring female Latina artists who are often artistically and culturally underrepresented in the mainstream classical music world. León’s music is also featured in a November concert curated by American compositional icon Joan Tower, in celebration of Tower’s 80th birthday.
Russian-born symphonic and opera conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya’s recent work has been hailed as “superb,” “expert,” and “coax[ing] every possible expressive note from the instrumentalists” (Theatre Reviews Limited). Recently named Music Director of Chicago Opera Theater, last season she also completed her tenure as Artistic Director of Juventas New Music Ensemble and was a resident artist at National Sawdust with the Refugee Orchestra Project; this season she serves as resident conductor of the new National Sawdust Ensemble. Guest conducting engagements include Wolftrap Opera, Flagstaff Symphony, Beth Morrison Projects, American Lyric Theater, Opera Saratoga, Brookline Symphony, and Stamford Symphony. Other recent positions include serving as Music Director with Commonwealth Lyric Theater, Music Director with Harvard's Lowell House Opera, as a chorus master for numerous programs with Boston Symphony Orchestra/Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and as a conductor with Boston Youth Symphony. Yankovskaya is also part of Dallas Opera’s inaugural Institute for Women Conductors and the Taki Concordia Fellowship program. She has been a conducting fellow at the Cabrillo Festival and, under Lorin Maazel, at the Castleton Festival, where she assisted Maazel and regularly filled in for him in rehearsal and performance.
About National Sawdust
National Sawdust’s mission is to build new audiences for classical and new music by providing outstanding resources and programming support to both emerging and established artists and composers. National Sawdust’s programming is centered on discovery within music, introducing audiences to new artists and styles, and introducing artists to new audiences. National Sawdust also provides artists with the space, time, and resources they need to create new work. With adjoining restaurant Rider, from James Beard award-winning chef Patrick Connolly, National Sawdust embraces the blending of cultural and culinary experience. The National Sawdust audio experience was designed by Arup Acoustics, and its architectural designer is Bureau V.