February 20, 2018

National Sawdust, the renowned Brooklyn music incubator and performing arts venue, has announced the winners of its inaugural Hildegard Competition (named for the seminal medieval composer Hildegard von Bingen) for emerging female and non-binary composers: Emma O’Halloran (Ireland), X. Lee (Los Angeles), and Kayla Cashetta (San Francisco/Bay Area). There will be a featured performance to honor the winners at National Sawdust on June 12, when new work by the three composers will be premiered by The Refugee Orchestra – a National Sawdust Artist-in-Residence – under the baton of Lidiya Yankovskaya. This announcement comes during the venue’s third season, which features 15 female composers and artists as curators, Artists-in-Residence, and commissioned creators. National Sawdust’s focus on women helps consolidate its reputation as an institution that “links the music to broader social issues” (Time Out New York). As the Washington Post puts it: “National Sawdust has become a major player on the new-music scene.

The winning composers will receive coaching from the three judges of the Hildegard Competition – composers Angélica Negrón, Pulitzer Prize-winner Du Yun, and National Sawdust Co-founder and Artistic Director Paola Prestini – each of whom will mentor one of the winners. The winning composers will also be commissioned to write works for chamber ensemble and electronics, to be performed and professionally recorded at the showcase concert. Finally, each winner will receive a $7,000 cash prize.

In the June 12 performance, The Refugee Orchestra will not only premiere works by the three winners, but also by runners-up Camila Agosto, Alexis Bacon, Amy Brandon, Diana Soh, and Akshaya Tucker. To accompany the event, the artistic and visually captivating scores of Russian composer and Hildegard Competition applicant Elena Rykova will be prominently displayed in the National Sawdust lobby.

National Sawdust Co-Founder and Artistic Director Paola Prestini said:

“I am deeply moved by the volume of responses to the Hildegard Competition. All of the candidates we judged were exemplary – Angélica, Du Yun, and I marveled at their musicianship, insight, and talent. The future of composition is bright and the need for opportunity, vast. I send my resounding congratulations to X. Lee, Emma, and Kayla, and look forward to their public debut in June with Lidiya Yankovskaya and the tremendous musicians of The Refugee Orchestra. I must also reiterate my immense gratitude to the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, which generously agreed to provide funding in support of the Hildegard Competition.”

After announcing the Hildegard Competition on October 2, National Sawdust received 140 submissions from emerging composers. To demonstrate their career progress, all applicants certified that they met two of the following three criteria: that they had received no commissions of $5,000 or more, that there were no commercially released recordings of their work, and that there had been no performances of their work by a professional ensemble (except within a university setting). The applicants were then 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 were required.

Funding for all National Sawdust’s endeavors to support women composers this season is thanks in part to a generous grant from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation.

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About the winners of the 2017-18 Hildegard Competition

Kayla Cashetta is a composer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Inspired by acoustics, new technologies, and the human experience, she strives to explore the intricacies of inner life and interpret them through sound. Past and current projects include concert works, electronic music, and collaborations with dancers, filmmakers, and songwriters. Her music has been performed at soundSCAPE, the Fontainebleau Summer Sessions, the Loretto Project, the Atlantic Music Festival, and the Center for New Music. Cashetta has worked with ensembles and soloists including the Eco Ensemble, Splinter Reeds, Soo Yeon Lyuh, Matt Ingalls, and Longleash. She is currently a doctoral student at UC Berkeley, where she is studying with Ken Ueno, Franck Bedrossian, Cindy Cox, Myra Melford, and Edmund Campion.

Lee, based in Los Angeles, defines their voice by the integration of interaction, electronics, multimedia visuals, gesture/movement performance, spatial design, and the synthesis of acoustic and electronic elements. Their renowned background as a DJ and producer in the techno subculture, juxtaposed with their extensive education and training in classical composition, theory and practice, has given them a unique understanding of the relationship between music, technologies, and the human experience. The fully immersive energy and large-scaled audio-visual interactions of “raves” inspires them to take the abstract concepts and aesthetics of techno into their personal electro-acoustic works. They have participated in summer festivals such as the Conservatoire Americaine de Fontainebleau – under the mentorship of François Paris, Martin Matalon, and Allain Gaussin – and Contemporary Music Creation + Critique at Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM), which ran alongside ManiFESTE. Their audio-visual electronic works have won calls for scores both from Ensemble Mise-En for Bushwick Open Studios and from Listening to Ladies for Ensemble Ctrl-Z. Most recently, they were featured on the Eastman School of Music’s radio show featuring trans and gender non-binary contemporary composers. In fall 2018, X. Lee will continue their studies in the Cursus Program at IRCAM.

Emma O’Halloran is an Irish composer, producer, and performer whose work moves freely between acoustic and electronic forces. She has written for orchestra, folk musicians, chamber ensembles, turntables, and laptop orchestra. Her work has been performed at the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival and MATA Festival, and she has collaborated with artists such as Crash Ensemble, PRISM Quartet, and the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra. In addition to concert music, she composes for film and theater, besides performing with her band, Games Violet, a producer-performer duo that makes hybrid rock/electronic music. O’Halloran considers much of her music to be reflective, and often tries to map real or imagined moments in time to gain a deeper understanding of her own personal experiences. She is currently completing a doctorate at Princeton University.

About the judges and mentors

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 music has been performed at the Bang on a Can Marathon, the Ecstatic Music Festival, and the 2016 NY PHIL BIENNIAL. She has also collaborated with artists like Sō Percussion, loadbang, American Composers Orchestra, and Face the Music. Negrón is currently a doctoral candidate at the Graduate Center (CUNY), where she studies composition with Tania León. She is a teaching artist for the New York Philharmonic’s Very Young Composers Program and Lincoln Center Education, working 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 of the New York Foundation for the Arts’ 2016 Artists’ Fellowship Program.

Born and raised in Shanghai, China, and now based in New York, Du Yun is the winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Music. She 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, she is one of the most exciting and groundbreaking thinkers working today. Known as chameleonic for her protean artistic output, her music is championed by some of today’s finest performing artists, ensembles, orchestras, and organizations around the world.

Paola Prestini has been named one of Musical America’s “Top 30 Musical Innovators 2016” and one of the Washington Post’s “Top 35 Female Composers in Classical Music.” Her music has been commissioned by and performed at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and London’s Barbican Centre, by groups such as 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 and has now merged with National Sawdust.

About the performers

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, this season she completes her tenure as Artistic Director of Juventas New Music Ensemble, and is a resident artist at National Sawdust with The Refugee Orchestra Project. Guest conducting engagements include Wolf Trap Opera, the Flagstaff Symphony, Beth Morrison Projects, American Lyric Theater, Opera Saratoga, Brookline Symphony, and Stamford Symphony. Other recent positions include serving as Music Director with both Commonwealth Lyric Theater and Harvard’s Lowell House Opera, as a chorus master for numerous programs with the Boston Symphony Orchestra/Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and as a conductor with the Boston Youth Symphony. Yankovskaya is also part of the Dallas Opera’s inaugural Institute for Women Conductors and the Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship program. She has been a conducting fellow at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music and, under Lorin Maazel, at the Castleton Festival, where she assisted Maazel and regularly filled in for him in rehearsal and performance.

The Refugee Orchestra Project brings together instrumentalists and singers whose friends and families have fled to the U.S. to escape violence and persecution, in performances that highlight these individuals’ importance to our cultural wealth. The Project was conceived by conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya, who realized in the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis that even many of her own closest colleagues and friends were not aware that she and many others like her had come to the U.S. as refugees, to seek asylum from violence and persecution abroad.

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. Its programming is centered on discovery within music, introducing audiences to new artists and styles, and introducing artists to new audiences. An incubator of new music, it also provides artists with the space, time, and resources they need to create new work.

National Sawdust is both a state-of-the-art performance venue and a recording studio, housed within a preserved, century-old sawdust factory. The building – which has won multiple architecture awards – also houses Rider, a two-story bistro and bar led by James Beard Award-winning chef Patrick Connolly. Rider completes the audience experience by offering an exceptional menu of food and drink during performances.

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© 21C Media Group, February 2018