Press Room

In Sophomore Season, National Sawdust Engages the Arts Community with New Curators, Artistic Residencies, Commissions, Partnerships, Online Publication, and More

Having opened last fall to a fanfare of applause, now National Sawdust embarks on its sophomore season with a fresh commitment to be a leading incubator of new work.  The new non-profit, artist-led Brooklyn space offers comprehensive artistic support from commissioning to development, collaboration, performance, recording, and beyond. Moreover, as a world-class performance and recording venue, it represents a premier destination for adventurous music lovers, its curatorial approach offering unparalleled audience guidance in making new discoveries. With a deep-seated commitment to interdisciplinary, collaborative new music; a host of new curators, artistic residencies, commissions, international partnerships, and a new online publication; and a full lineup of festivals, operas, concerts, and touring, National Sawdust looks set to prove itself once again, “a triumphantly successful new performance space in Williamsburg that stands for a hip, sophisticated brand of new music” (New York Times). As the Village Voice put it, “Nothing quite like it exists in New York City, or anywhere else in the world. … Williamsburg’s bright new diamond National Sawdust will change the way modern music is made.”

Composer Paola Prestini, Creative and Executive Director of National Sawdust, explains:

“I believe the role of an artist in the 21st century should be that of creator, educator, performer, and entrepreneur. Composers, like myself, and artists in general need to be thinking about what impact they can have on their existing community, both locally and globally. This season, we focus on several strands, giving deeper financial support to our artistic community through more commissioning and extended periods of incubation time such as our August Labs series. We have a new commitment to opera with over 10 operatic works at National Sawdust. NS embarks on new partnerships with festivals such as Aix en Provence and continues partnerships with companies such as Beth Morrison Projects. National Sawdust facilitates a new type of community by bringing together artists from around the world in exciting composition-based projects, teaching opportunities, activism, cultural exchanges, and hands-on management experience. Through this cultural synthesis, artists leave lasting impressions on one another, become more versatile and resilient professionals, and create works that reflect a plural understanding of American society.”


A core component of National Sawdust’s mission is the curation model, whereby master musicians from across genres are invited to join the NS family of programmers. As curators, these musicians enjoy a platform on which to advance their field by promoting emerging and established exponents from around the world. As a result, National Sawdust’s programming represents a multiplicity of voices to whom audiences can turn for guidance in expanding their artistic landscape. For the 2016-17 season, National Sawdust’s new Curators include Timo Andres, the composer-pianist recently named as a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist; Jeff McErlain, a modern blues guitarist, songwriter, teacher, and producer whose collaborators have included Scott Henderson, George Clinton, and Will Lee; Ric Leichtung, founder of AdHoc magazine, which documents the underground music scene; Caroline Polachek, best known as the lead singer of Chairlift and writer-producer of “No Angel,” a Grammy-nominated hit single for Beyoncé; and Sxip Shirey, the electric-acoustic composer, performer, and storyteller whose “mesmerizing” (New Yorker) work has graced venues ranging from New York’s CBGB to the Sydney Opera House. Returning as Curators this season are vocalist Theo Bleckmann; celebrated counter-tenor Anthony Roth Costanzo; Magos Herrera, who is “without a doubt the best jazz singer out of Mexico” (Jazz Times); the Brooklyn-based impresario Billy Jones; Chris Grimes’s label Open G Records; and acclaimed cellist Jeffrey Zeigler.


Residencies at National Sawdust not only provide invaluable career support for artists, but also help to forge new creative relationships between groups and artists who might never otherwise have encountered each other. Thus, in addition to commissioning and performance opportunities, and access to rehearsal and recording time, National Sawdust’s resident groups and artists receive, critically, the chance to explore collaborations with one another. The 2016-17 artists-in-residence include four groups: 1B1, Norway’s progressive and award-winning string ensemble; Beth Morrison Projects, the celebrated production company whose “projects push the boundaries of what opera is” (Wall Street Journal); wild Up, the modern music collective named one of the “Best in Classical Music 2015” (New York Times); and yMusic, the genre-benders hailed as “one of the groups that has really helped to shape the future of classical music” (NPR’s Fred Child). Complementing these groups are eight individual artists: interdisciplinary performer, vocalist, artistic director and curator Sophia Brous, whose credits range from London’s Southbank Centre to the Melbourne International Jazz Festival; Helga Davis, “a powerful vocalist with an almost operatic range and all the bruised sensuality of Jeanne Lee” (Wire magazine); Julia Holter, an electronic composer and singer-songwriter known for “exceptional pop built on avant-garde foundations” (Guardian); Japanese composer Yuka Honda, who has collaborated with such experimental pathbreakers as Laurie Anderson and Yoko Ono and with her group, Cibo Matto; Glenn Kotche, composer and drummer of the band Wilco; composer and sound artist Ellen Reid, best known for her work Hopscotch, and her opera, Winter’s Child; and opera director R. B. Schlather, who impressed Opera News with his “ability to demolish the barriers of propriety and politeness that seem to plague much of traditional operatic experience.”

New commissions

National Sawdust takes an exceptionally proactive role in the creation and incubation of new work, providing commissioning fees, development time, and recording and technical support found nowhere else in New York City. In its inaugural season, NS commissioned 15 artists and groups who combined to create new works for the unique new space, ranging from full-scale opera, music-theater, visual multimedia, and immersive theater projects, to album recording and unprecedented collaborations between multinational artists. In 2016-17, NS looks to build on this extraordinary achievement, expanding the total to 25 artists and groups and more than 30 new works. Among those receiving commissions in the coming season include curator Theo Bleckmann and resident artists Helga Davis, Ellen Reid, Julia Holter, and Yuka Honda.

International partnerships

National Sawdust is proud to combine deep Brooklyn roots with a broader global perspective, and the coming season sees the center undertake cultural partnerships with leading music festivals, presenters, and recording labels from around the world. These include Germany’s ECM Records, which offers a five-concert series showcasing new and recent projects by artists from its “jaw-dropping roster” (Time Out New York), and the World Music Institute, which presents Brazilian bossa nova star Bebel Gilberto in concert and premieres a new collaboration between Meredith Monk and Nepalese nun Ani Choying Drolma. National Sawdust’s other 2016-17 partners are the Brooklyn Youth Chorus; Manhattan School of Music; Festival dAix en Provence; the French American Cultural Exchange/French Rocks; Jill Newman Productions; the New York Festival of Song; Norwegian Consulate General; Switzerland’s philanthropic Rolex Institute; and the Young Peoples Chorus of New York.

New online arts journal

As an incubator for new and emerging art, National Sawdust recognizes the need for a forum for conversation, reflection and debate, where artists can explain and contextualize their projects, and audiences gain insight into the creative process. In a completely new initiative, the 2016-17 season sees NS launch such a forum in the form of a new online arts journal, titled The Log and directed by veteran music journalist Steve Smith, of New York Times, Time Out New York, and Boston Globe reputation, who joins National Sawdust as Director of Publications. Under his expert curation, the new publication will comprise multiple sections, each showcasing a different facet of the arts world. These will include long-form interviews with artists appearing at National Sawdust; topical essays pertinent to the artistic community; exclusive footage and analysis of NS talks; coverage of outside concerts and events of interest; and a submissions page, where up-and-coming writers, musicians, and experts can share their opinions on music and the arts.

Activism, Entrepreneurship, and Education

Three main pillars of National Sawdust are explored this season through the following residencies and new initiatives.

The Beginning Stages

Partnering with Broadway producers TJ Armand and Carl Paiva, National Sawdust introduces a five-day music theater initiative residency in September at NS which focuses on the primary phase of a staged Broadway musical: The Concert Reading. By offering open rehearsals, talk-backs and a concert reading for a developing show, National Sawdust will open its doors to a musical theater residency for the first time. This inaugural residency will feature Sama: An American Requiem.

Carla Dirlikov and Carnegie Hall present The Canales Project

BETWEEN TWO WORLDS will be the title for a series of concert programs in which issues of culture and identity will be explored in songs and music and interaction with artists who also understand and have lived those issues. These concerts will not only offer great music from many traditions, they will also include conversations between the artists and the audience in which key questions will be explored. The host will be Carla Dirlikov Canales, an internationally acclaimed opera singer and founder of The Canales Project, the creator and presenter of these events.

Very Young Composers with El Puente Arts

National Sawdust will continue its partnership with Jon Deak (The New York Philharmonic) and El Puente Arts on the Very Young Composers program. In Very Young Composers, students with or without musical backgrounds create, notate, and hear their very own music performed. The VYC is founded on the belief that within the child is contained a creativity which can revitalize the repertoire of the orchestra and of concert music in general. The VYC takes children’s creations seriously, and allows the child to have his or her music concept writ large upon the canvas of the orchestra. The Teaching Artist/facilitator (conduit/catalyst) provides an essential link in this process.

El Puente is a community human rights institution that promotes leadership for peace and justice through the engagement of members (youth and adult) in the arts, education, scientific research, wellness and environmental action. Organizing in North Brooklyn and beyond, El Puente is at the forefront of community/youth learning and development issues and, as such, initiates and has an impact on social policy both locally and nationally. El Puente will be one of NS’s most important links to its local community. We will work with them on an ongoing basis, pairing their artists with our curators and artists in residence, giving members of the El Puente community special access to all youth and community programming, and collaborating with them on promotion and other audience development activities.

The Nu-Wave Africa Fest curated and produced by Kyla-rose Smith

A weeklong festival at National Sawdust celebrating unique, inventive sounds of the African continent. The festival will present a selection of the continent’s bright young genre-busting musical outfits, dedicated to exploring new musical territories in a series of alternative collaborations, trio and duo performances, and a series of talks on the diversity and nuance of the music from the African continent. The festival, to be held in the summer of 2017, will be a critical opportunity to present African art that resists the easy characterization of much of the continent’s best-known cultural exports. Instead, the performances and talks will delve into the cultural complexity of many of Africa’s largest countries, exploring indigenous rhythms and melodies alongside path-breaking fusion and syncretic creations. Nu-Wave Africa Fest will expose New Yorkers to top-caliber talent that they have never seen or heard before, while also facilitating new and inspiring collaborations between the artists.

Found Sound Nation and Hear be Dragons

Found Sound Nation (FSN) will curate projects at NS this season, featuring a growing network of international artists and alumni of its OneBeat international music exchange. FSN artists will work in partnership with local schools and community organizations to design and facilitate creative workshops with youth and performances for the NS main space. FSN’s creative workshop model challenges young people to explore their environment and imagination through the lens of sound, creating innovative music projects based on those explorations. FSN workshop participants work with music and media professionals as they develop competency in audio technology, music production, and leadership. Using a hands-on, participant-centered approach, their projects bring a critical ear to literature, technology, and politics, based on their belief that sound and music are essential tools to understand and effect positive change in an individual, neighborhood or society.

August Labs

In its continuing LAB series, National Sawdust provides local Brooklyn artists condensed residency time to develop and showcase music-based works.  The company chooses works that explore interdisciplinary arts and sciences, including but not limited to architecture, film/video arts, literature, theatre, and visual arts.  The last cohort incubated and presented a total of four world premieres with artists ranging from local favorites to global icons.

National Sawdust+

National Sawdust+, a series that bring artists and thinkers together for stimulating, and often unexpected events, returns for its second season. Created by Elena Park, NS+ gives leading figures in the world of film, theater, media, literature, and art a platform to share their musical passions with the Williamsburg audience, and to explore ideas with musicians and composers they admire. NS+ Concerts, curated and hosted by artists such as Julie Taymor, Michael Mayer, and Jad Abumrad, have featured music from spirituals to opera, and from Broadway to indie rock. NS+ Talks have paired Waltraud Meier and Patti SmithMarina Abramovic and Laurie Anderson, and Meredith Monk and Yuval Sharon in hour-long conversations, sometimes crossing genres, and at others crossing disciplines.

The Playthrough Series: Live Video Game Playthrough Performances

With the belief that video games should be treated with the same artistic respect as other visual mediums, and the music created for them should be as well, National Sawdust teams up with The NYU Game Center, under the direction of Curator Natalia Schwien, to create quarterly innovative performances and immersive experiences focused on video games. Each has a slightly different theme and approach and is preceded by the premiere playthrough of a student game. The collaboration launched this past July with a live playthrough of composer Austin Wintory and Thatgamecompany’s award-winning Journey with Stephen Lawrence Clark’s Rooftop Cop.

2016-17 highlights: festivals, opera, and more

With programming “poised at the intersection of pop, jazz and classical, of America and the world,” according to the New York Times, National Sawdust “already feels like an invaluable part of the New York music scene.” In the coming season, the volume and breadth of programming at NS continues to raise the bar. Offering special depth and context, the 2016-17 festivals include four composer portraits: Philip Glass at 80, which includes violinist Johnny Gandelsman, artist-in-residence R. B. Schlather, and a performance of A Madrigal Opera; a festival of music by Martin Bresnick; Bridging the Gap, a series of concerts of chamber, choral, and solo compositions created to explore student/teacher, mentor/mentee relationships between generations of composers, in partnership with Manhattan School of Music and the Yale School of Music and curated by Robert Sirota; and a special 10-hour marathon concert featuring 20 different ensembles performing over 100 different pieces from John Zorn’s Bagatelles, the composer’s expansive new book of music. Other highlights include the new series WOMANPRODUCER, which highlights women as creators of sonic worlds; a return of The Tell, a monthly storytelling series heralded by Michael Leviton; a Winterreise Festival, presenting superstar Dutch vocalist Wende in the U.S. premiere of A Winterreise for the 21st Century; Spring Revolution, a month-long exploration of rite, ritual, and revolution; and the fourth FERUS Festival, VisionIntoArt’s annual showcase for innovative interdisciplinary new work in progress. Percussion Festival also returns, curated by Ian Rosenbaum and Andy Akiho.

Described as “ideal for productions that revitalize the art form at a time when it could use some shaking up” (New York Times), National Sawdust has succeeded in establishing itself as a vital new home for opera, and one that is already highly sought-after as a production partner by some of the most original voices in the New York opera scene. National Sawdust will be committed to this artform this season by presenting or producing 10 operatic projects. Upcoming productions this Fall include the world premiere of Janet Palmer’s Sweat, a full-length a cappella opera depicting life in factories around the world, and two chamber operas by Louis Andriessen, all co-presented with the Center for Contemporary Opera; Heartbeat Opera’s third annual Benefit Drag Extravaganza, an intergalactic Halloween show titled Queens of the Night: Mozart in Space; and a pair of projects directed by resident artist R.B. Schlather: the American premiere of Vasco Mendonça’s The House Taken Over, a co-production with the Manhattan School of Music and the Festival dAix en Provence (one of NS’s international partners), and an open workshop of Schlather’s new take on Handel’s Baroque masterpiece Ariodante. Spring highlights will include Glass’s A Madrigal Opera, directed by NS Artist in Residence R.B. Schlather; Prototype Festival’s presentation of Funeral Doom Spiritual, featuring M. Lamar; an operatic staging of “Tragedy” by NS resident artists Julia Holter and wild Up with guests; and a special project by NS Curator Anthony Roth Costanzo.

National Sawdust’s second season kicks off on October 1, with a special opening night celebration that explores its diverse range of programming, from new classical to experimental and improvisation. NS curators and artists-in-residence explore a range of themes that underscore the new season, from #BlackLivesMatter, to opera, to lullabies around the world. Scheduled to appear are bass-baritone Davone Tines, improviser Helga Davis, vocalist and performance artist Sophia Brous and surprise guests.

 VisionIntoArt at National Sawdust

As the traveling arm of the new arts space, it is VisionIntoArt/National Sawdust (VIA-NS) that helps share its vision with the wider world. The coming season sees VIA-NS take to the road with three of the center’s most compelling new multimedia productions. For its first appearance on Broadway, VIA-NS presents Aging Magician – a meditation on time, youth, and the peculiar magic of ordinary life by composer Paola Prestini, with a libretto and title-role performance from Pulitzer Prize-finalist Rinde Eckert, and director and designer Julian Crouch– at the New Victory Theater (March 3, 4, 5, 11, 12). Next comes the West Coast premiere of The Colorado – an acclaimed music-driven eco-documentary by filmmaker Murat Eyuboglu with music by William Brittelle, Glenn Kotche, Prestini, Shara Nova, and Pulitzer Prize laureate John Luther Adams – in Stanford University’s “Stanford Live” series (April 17). Back home at National Sawdust, the FERUS Festival returns in January. This four day festival is an incubator for innovative interdisciplinary works and will include a new collaboration between Yuka Honda and the Young Peoples Chorus of New York, a new work by composer Julian Wachner performed by the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, and a new project by multi-talented performer Bishi Bhattacharya.

Critically acclaimed venue

As critics were quick to appreciate, National Sawdust provides an intimate and acoustically exemplary environment for artists and audiences to connect. Architectural specialist Wallpaper described its “state-of-the-art, acoustically-driven design” as “show-stopping.” The New York Times agreed, noting that the acoustics “were impressive in music both amplified and not, a difficult feat.” Similarly, New York found NS to be “a sensitive and versatile space, able to flatter the smallest peep and absorb an amplified assault.” All told, as the Village Voice recognized, National Sawdust offers “a modernized version of an 18th-century chamber hall where almost anything is possible.”

This season, National Sawdust launches its inaugural membership program for avid music fans wishing to support the mission of artist development. Benefits are aimed at encouraging new music discovery, engaging with the venue more deeply, and connecting with the surrounding community by offering discounted tickets, special member-only events, neighborhood perks, and more.

Highlights of the inaugural season included a star-studded opening night featuring Nico Muhly and Chris Thile; festivals paying tribute to John Zorn, Terry Riley, and the late Pierre Boulez; participation in the New York Philharmonic’s Contact! new-music series and NY PHIL BIENNIAL; performances by Roomful of Teeth, The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, and Newspeak; Laurie Anderson and Marina Abramovic in conversation; and new and recent works by a host of composers including John Luther Adams and Matthew Aucoin.

National Sawdust: fall presentations

Oct 1
Opening Night
Davone Tines, Helga Davis, Sophia Brous and surprise guests

Oct 3
Sxip’s Hour of Charm
Sxip Shirey featuring Basil Twist

Oct 6
Magos Herrera Presents: Grégoire Maret

Oct 7–9
The House Taken Over
Composer Vasco Mendonça and librettist Sam Holcroft
Co-production with Festival d’Aix en Provence and Manhattan School of Music
R.B. Schlather, director
Etienne Siebens, conductor

Oct 14 & 15
Center for Contemporary Opera & National Sawdust
Louis Andriessen Double Bill Chamber Opera

Oct 18, 20 & 25
The Blow

Oct 19
Timo Andres & Yevgeny Kutik

Oct 20
Jeff McErlain presents

Oct 22
John Zorn’s Ultimate Bagatelles Marathon

Oct 26-27
Center for Contemporary Opera
Featuring Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, Larissa Koniuk, Shabnam Kalbasi, Eric McKeever, and Patrick McNally
Lidiya Yankovskaya, conductor
Giselle Ty, director

Oct 20
“Solid Jackson”: Singers You Know. Songs You Don’t
Spencer Zahn, bassist & composer
Featuring Chet Faker, Chairlift, Darkside, Elle King, & more

Oct 31
Heartbeat Opera
Benefit Drag Extravaganza

Nov 2
New York Festival of Song

Nov 3
“All Souls in the Dark”
Theo Bleckmann, vocals
Shai Maestro, piano

Nov 4
Young People’s Chorus presents Transient Glory
Mason Bates: Sirens
Michael Gordon: Great Trees of New York City
Joan La Barbara: A Murmuration for Chibok
Jessie Montgomery: Danse Africaine
Robert Xavier Rodriguez: A Surfeit of Similes
Charles Wuorinen: Exsultet

Nov 5
“Birdman” Live Score

Nov 6
Martin Bresnick Festival
BRESNICK: Tent of Miracles for Solo Baritone Saxophone and 3 pre-recorded Baritone Saxophones, Bird as Prophet for violin and piano, Joaquin is Dreaming (Joaquin Soñando) 2008, Prayers Remain Forever, Prophetic Strain, Ishi’s Song, Songs of the Mouse People, and Everything Must Go

Nov 10
The Playthrough Series: Live Video Game Playthrough Performances

Nov 16
“Solid Jackson”: Singers You Know. Songs You Don’t
Spencer Zahn, bassist & composer
Featuring Chet Faker, Chairlift, Darkside, Elle King, & more

Nov 17
The World Music Institute
Meredith Monk & Ani Choying Drolma

Nov 18 & 19
LA In Brooklyn
NS Groups in Residence Beth Morrison Projects & wild Up
Music by Ellen Reid, Ted Hearne, Jodie Landau, and Chris Rountree

Nov 20
Brooklyn Youth Chorus

Dec 3
ECM Records
Son of Goldfinger

Dec 4
Bridging the Gap
Roberto Sirota, curator
Composers from Manhattan School of Music: Richard Danielpour, Paolo
Marchettini, Marjorie Merryman and Rebecca Erin Smith
Pre-concert discussion moderated by Paola Prestini

Dec 7
“Solid Jackson”: Singers You Know. Songs You Don’t
Spencer Zahn, bassist & composer
Featuring Chet Faker, Chairlift, Darkside, Elle King, & more

Dec 10
World Music Institute
Steve Reich Tribute

Dec 14
Winterreise Festival: Wende Sings Winterreise
Gerardus Bouwhuis, piano
SCHUBERT: Die Winterreise

Dec 21
HANDEL: Ariodante
R.B. Schlather, director
Geoffrey McDonald, conductor


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