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National Sawdust Announces Lineup for 2018 FERUS Festival (Jan 11, 12, 15 & 16)

National Sawdust, the renowned music incubator and non-profit, announced today the final lineup for its annual FERUS Festival on January 11, 12, 15, and 16. Billed as a celebration of “untamed voices,” the FERUS Festival presents the latest in cutting-edge new music, with an emphasis on performances that push the envelope. Held for the third time at National Sawdust, this year the festival hosts four performances, all featuring new work that transcends traditional tropes in music. Showcasing London-based multi-instrumentalist and DJ Bishi, a performance of Donnacha Dennehy’s music by violist and Peabody Award-winning “Meet the Composer” host Nadia Sirota with gamba player Liam Byrne, experimental performer and composer Sxip Shirey, and the emerging mavericks and 2017 M-Prize-winners Russian Renaissance, this year’s FERUS lineup confirms National Sawdust’s status as “a major player on the new-music scene” (Washington Post). As the New Yorker puts it: “Artistically, National Sawdust’s young and novel presence on the New York scene has been a smashing success.

On Thursday, January 11, Bishi kicks off the festival with the world premiere of her song cycle, The Good Immigrant. Based on a British essay collection edited by Nikesh Shukla about race and identity, the cycle is scored for voice looper, sitar, and electronics, and produced in collaboration with composer and sound designer Jeff Cook. British-born to Bengali immigrants and adopted by London’s alternative queer nightlife community, in The Good Immigrant Bishi explores issues that have defined her own life: identity, belonging, and the search for a middle way between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation.

On Friday, January 12, Nadia Sirota and Liam Byrne perform Tessellatum, which combines music and film. Collaboratively created by composer Donnacha Dennehy and animator Steven Mertens, this multimedia work addresses the concept of “man vs. nature.” Mertens’s electric animation toggles back and forth between the perfect symmetries of manmade geometrics and the ocean’s natural irregularity, while Dennehy’s addictive timbres alternate between human tuning systems and the resonances found in nature. Sharing the same forms and structures, the music and animation support and complement each other to create a powerfully moving work of art. Written for the unusual instrumentation of 11 bass viols and 5 violas, the performance will feature Sirota and Byrne playing live, with the rest of the parts multi-tracked behind them.

On Monday, January 15, Sxip Shirey introduces audiences to his eclectic sound-world through three of his own compositions about death, disappearance, and returning home. The first, “Latency, an Elegy for David Bowie,” uses hocketing, cellphones, and other media to play with the concept of delay and feedback through latency. Scored for code key, piano, and glass harmonica, the second, “Amelia Found,” incorporates messages from members of the audience, rendering them in Morse code and sending them up to the heavens in tribute to Amelia Earhart. In Shirey’s final work, “The Gauntlet: Sing me a Lullaby as Under Water,” the composer joins forces with choral ensemble and National Sawdust Artist-in-Residence Choral Chameleon to develop his “gauntlet” concept, which sees audience members walk between rows of singers, becoming immersed in sound as lines of music pass from one singer to the next. The evening features appearances by the dancer Coco Karol, who also choreographs, alt-pop singer Natti Vogel, and puppeteers Basil Twist, Erin Orr, and Chris Green.

Finally, on Tuesday, January 16, Russian Renaissance will live-score scenes from iconic Italian films, including La Dolce Vita and The Bicycle Thief. Heralded as “ferocious” by M-Prize critic Martin Slagter, the ensemble comprises some of the leading exponents of four traditional Russian instruments: the stringed balalaika, domra, button accordion, and balalaika-contrabasso.

Composer Paola Prestini, the Artistic Director of National Sawdust, comments:

“I am proud to continue the tradition of the FERUS Festival this year, and to present artists who are both addressing seminal issues of our time and adding essential innovation to the music field. FERUS serves as our showcase for work that we have commissioned and endorsed, in hopes that it finds life beyond our walls. As I’ve found in my own career as a composer, my most satisfying work has come when I’ve taken more risks, not fewer. In that spirit, the FERUS Festival is our annual green light for artists to show, with no restrictions, how spectacular the artistic experience in New York can truly be.”

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About Bishi

Musician, artist, multimedia performer, and curator Bishi was born in London and is of Bengali heritage. She received musical training in both Hindustani and Western classical styles, including study of the sitar under Gaurav Mazumdar, a senior disciple of Ravi Shankar. She has recorded two albums with longtime collaborator Matthew Hardern: Albion Voice and Nights at The Circus. Her live performances explore interactive multimedia and video projection.

Bishi’s collaborations and commissions for the stage have included projects for the London Symphony Orchestra, English National Opera, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Whitechapel Gallery, and Nick Knight’s She performed at Yoko Ono’s “Meltdown at the Royal Festival Hall” in the world premiere of Double Fantasy Live.

With her multimedia musical performance Albion Voice Live, Bishi has headlined KOKO and the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, and The Kitchen in New York City. Albion Voice was also presented at London’s Government Art Collection as a part of the embassyHACK exhibition, in collaboration with Goldsmiths, University of London.

About Nadia Sirota

Violist Nadia Sirota’s varied career spans solo performances, chamber music, and broadcasting. In all branches of her artistic life she aims to open classical music up to a broader audience. Her singular sound and expressive execution have served as muse to dozens of composers, including Nico Muhly, David Lang, Bryce Dessner, Missy Mazzoli, and Marcos Balter. Sirota won a 2015 Peabody Award, broadcasting’s highest honor, for her podcast Meet the Composer, “the world’s best contemporary classical music podcast” (Pitchfork), which deftly profiles some of the most interesting musical thinkers living today. As a soloist, Sirota has appeared with acclaimed orchestras around the world, including the Detroit Symphony, National Arts Centre Orchestra, Spanish National Orchestra, and the Orchestre national d’Île-de-France. To date, she has released four albums of commissions, the most recent of which is Tessellatum. She is a member of the chamber sextet yMusic and has lent her sound to recording and concert projects by such artists and songwriters as Anohni, The National, Arcade Fire, and Paul Simon. In 2013 she won Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Prize, awarded to pioneering artists and scholars with an emerging international profile. She received her undergraduate and Master’s degrees from the Juilliard School, studying with Heidi Castleman, Misha Amory, and Hsin-Yun Huang.

About Liam Byrne

Liam Byrne divides his time between playing very old and very new music on the viol. He has been praised in The Times of London for his “nuanced and expressive, stylish virtuosity” and by The Guardian for his “glittering performance.” With the firm belief that Baroque music can be vibrant and expressive on its own terms, his solo work regularly explores lesser-known corners of 16th- and 17th-century repertoire. This same interpretative curiosity has led him to work increasingly with living composers, and he has recently had new works written for him by Donnacha Dennehy, Edmund Finnis, David Lang, Nico Muhly, Valgeir Sigurðsson, and others.

As a chamber musician, Byrne has performed and recorded with many leading early music ensembles. For several years he was a member of the renowned viol consort Fretwork, with which he toured internationally and played an active role in commissioning new works. Other chamber music activities include performances and recordings with the Dunedin Consort, Huelgas Ensemble, The Sixteen, Le Concert d’Astrée, I Fagiolini, Concerto Caledonia, and the viol consorts Phantasm and Concordia, among many others.

Beyond the realm of early music, Byrne has worked with a wide variety of artists including Damon Albarn, Nils Frahm, Matthew Herbert, Valgeir Sigurðsson, Bryce Dessner (The National), Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire), Martin Parker, and Shara Nova (My Brightest Diamond). He has played a significant musical part in the creation of several large-scale operatic works: Damon Albarn’s Dr. Dee (2011-12), Shara Nova’s You Us We All (2013), and Valgeir Sigurðsson’s Wide Slumber (2014).

In April 2015, Byrne became the first musician to be awarded a six-month Artist Residency at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, in connection with the opening of its new Europe 1600-1815 galleries. Highlights included the weeklong one-on-one performance piece Inside Voices, and a new sound installation with Valgeir Sigurðsson for London Design Festival, called Dissonances. Summer 2015 also saw Byrne play a major role in creating sound installations at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art with Opera Erratica and at London’s National Gallery with Nico Muhly.

Byrne took his BMus and Performer’s Diploma in viola da gamba with Wendy Gillespie at Indiana University. He holds an MPhil in Musicology and Performance from Magdalen College Oxford, where he studied viol with Laurence Dreyfus and counterpoint and early notation with Margaret Bent. Byrne is professor of viola da gamba at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where he also teaches Medieval and Renaissance Performance Practice and leads a viol consort.

Byrne plays a seven-string bass viol by John Pringle, a six-string bass by Marc Soubeyran, and a treble viol by Dietrich Kessler, which is graciously on loan from Marc Soubeyran.

About Sxip Shirey

Sxip Shirey (pronounced “skip”) is a composer, producer, and performer based in New York City. Shirey’s music and performances are distinguished by their use of found objects, traditional instruments, electronics, and rare modified instruments. His resume reveals a career as accomplished as it is eclectic: he has been a featured performer at TED (2008), composed the score for a televised short film by the writer Neil Gaiman, and performed his theater/circus arts production “LIMBO” at Madonna’s 57th birthday party. A veteran of underground events across New York City and beyond for more than 15 years, he has also toured the U.S. and internationally with collaborators including the Boston Pops, English National Opera, Amanda Palmer, the Dresden Dolls, and Rhiannon Giddens. Shirey has released several albums as a solo artist, his most recent being A Bottle of Whiskey and a Handful of Bees, which NPR’s Milo Miles calls “original and engaging.”

About Russian Renaissance

Russian Renaissance takes traditional Russian folk music to the next level. Since making its debut in October 2015, live-scoring with world-renowned director and Cannes Film Festival laureate Emir Kusturica, the quartet has gone on to win accolades for its high-profile appearances in Russia, the United States, Serbia, and Japan. Recently recognized with the University of Michigan’s  2017 M-Prize, which includes a cash award of $100,000, the ensemble comprises Ivan Kuznetsov on balalaika, Alexander Tarasov on accordion, Ivan Vinogradov on contra-balalaika, and Anastasia Zakharova on domra.

About National Sawdust

National Sawdust’s mission is to build new audiences for 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.

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© 21C Media Group, December 2017

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