Press Room

National Sawdust Embarks on Winter Season of Opera, Curated Performances, FERUS Festival, and More

National Sawdust’s second winter of operation sees the influential new Brooklyn venue brimming over with a full schedule that includes VIA’s fourth FERUS Festival, opera, new series, and curated performances. Additionally, a month-long Spring Revolution festival explores female empowerment and cultural dialogue, and the calendar is rounded out with world premieres, composer showcases, and guest artists, including an appearance by Russian feminist group Pussy Riot. With a deep-seated commitment to interdisciplinary, collaborative new music, and a host of new curators, artistic residencies, commissions, international partnerships, conversations, and a new online publication called The Log Journal, the world-class performance and recording venue proves 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.”

Spring Revolution Festival at NS

March 8 is International Women’s Day, and in the U.S. the whole month of March is celebrated as Women’s History Month. NS’s second month-long Spring Revolution festival builds on these celebrations as it focuses on two outstanding female attributes: empowerment and discourse. The first part of the festival, “Female Empowerment” (March 1) begins with PUBLIQuartet cellist Amanda Gookin’s “Forward Music Project,” which commissions from today’s most forward-thinking composers new works for solo cello that encourage social change and empowerment for women and girls. The next day (March 2), NS Curator Magos Herrera – “without a doubt the best jazz singer out of Mexico” (Jazz Times) – pays tribute to the late Argentinean singer/songwriter and activist Mercedes Sosa. With roots in Argentine folk music, Sosa was beloved throughout Latin America during her four-decade career, and played to sell-out crowds in Carnegie Hall and the Roman Coliseum in the last years of her life. She also served as an Ambassador for UNICEF and was hailed as “the voice of the voiceless ones.”

The music of NS Creative and Executive Director Paola Prestini comes into focus when the Spring Revolution Festival intersects with NS’s “Bridging the Gap” series. “Bridging the Gap” consists of concerts of chamber, choral, and solo compositions created to explore student/teacher and mentor/mentee relationships between generations of composers, produced in partnership with the Manhattan School of Music and the Yale School of Music. The series is curated by composer Robert Sirota, the Manhattan School’s former president. In her only featured performance at NS this season, Prestini’s music will be heard alongside that of her mentors John Zorn and Philip Glass in a recital by cellist Jeffrey Zeigler on March 5. Following the concert, a panel discussion with the three composers will be moderated by National Sawdust’s new Director of Publications, veteran music journalist Steve Smith. Two guest artists round out the “Female Empowerment” portion of the festival: electronic activist Madame Gandhi, former percussionist for M.I.A., takes the stage for a triple bill showcase with Bohan Phoenix and Bush Tea (March 10); and finally NS hosts the notorious Russian feminist punk-rock protest group Pussy Riot (March 17).

The second part of the Spring Revolution festival, “Cultural Dialogue,” puts the spotlight on international music, fusing east with west, and folk with contemporary. March 12 is the second of the “Philip Glass @ 80” concerts, honoring the composer and introducing Gambian composer and oral historian Foday Musa Suso. March 19 brings the Nowruz Festival, with Persian music, dance, food and discussion surrounding perception of Iranians in mainstream media. On March 21, Tennessee’s Big Ears Festival co-presents Norwegian Hardanger fiddle player Nils Økland; on March 25, saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa performs “Bird Calls,” his reimagining of works by jazz legend Charlie “Bird” Parker; and on March 30, composer Lukas Ligeti, son of the late modernist master György Ligeti, teams with his creative organization Pidgin Culture to present Four Oceans, a new ensemble piece with sounds of traditional Indonesian instruments, traditional Western instruments, and electronics, all accompanied by a visual artist to create a transcendent cultural journey.

FERUS Festival

The fourth annual FERUS Festival, presented by VisionIntoArt, the in-house production company of National Sawdust, is a showcase for innovative interdisciplinary new work in progress. This year’s five-day festival (Jan 5–9) includes performances by artists-in-residence Helga Davis and Yuka C. Honda; the band M is Black Enough with NS poet-in-residence Roger Bonair-Agard; violinist Rebecca Fischer on a double bill with trombone loop outfit Nelson Patton and legendary outsider artist and vocalist Lonnie Holley; “Mass Reimaginings Showcase,” a preview by Julian Wachner and The Choir of Trinity Wall Street of excerpts from five newly commissioned mass settings; and a release event, featuring a live performance by Rhiannon Giddens, for NS curator Sxip Shirey’s new VIA Records album A Bottle of Whiskey and a Handful of Bees.

Helga Davis, with colleagues who include bass-baritone Davóne Tines and Artist-in-Residence dancer and choreographer Reggie “Regg Roc” Gray, presents Requiem for a Tuesday, a powerful and emotional meditation on violence enacted in and upon black communities, exploring a multitude of different perspectives from both sides of the perceived divide. Music is by Davis, Shara Nova (My Brightest Diamond), and Pulitzer-Prize winner Caroline Shaw. Composer/musician and producer Yuka Honda’s evening-length multimedia work Revert to Sea is based on the novel Coin Locker Babies by Japanese author Ryu Murakami. Joining Honda are guitarist Nels Cline, drummer Alex Cline (in a rare appearance), harpist Zeena Parkins, and bassist Devin Hoff.

M is Black Enough features NS poet-in-residence Roger Bonair-Agard, author of the just-released poetry collection Where Brooklyn At?, and the music of composer and percussionist Andy Akiho. Cellist Jeffrey Zeigler and drummer Sean Dixon round out the group, a “p(f)unk fusion” band that builds on the eclectic hard-driving rhythms, relentless energy, and biting social commentary of Bonair-Agard’s poems. In an evening of musicians who are expanding the scope of visual and textual storytelling, renowned violinist Rebecca Fischer of the Chiara String Quartet performs excerpts from the multi-composer project “The Afield,” with film by Anthony Hawley and music by Byron Au Yong, Lisa Bielawa, Nico Muhly, and Paola Prestini. Sharing the bill is the duo Nelson Patton, comprising a trombonist (Dave Nelson) and drummer (Marlon Patton) working with loops and pedals, joined by special guest, outsider artist and vocalist Lonnie Holley.

“Mass Reimaginings” is a long-term commissioning project of Trinity Church Wall Street. The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and Trinity’s in-house contemporary music orchestra NOVUS NY, conducted by Trinity’s Director of Music Julian Wachner, will present excerpts from five new mass settings in a program titled “Mass Reimaginings Showcase,” in anticipation of the world premiere of the full works on January 12 at Trinity Church. Composers include Wachner, Daniel Felsenfeld, Jonathan Newman, Paola Prestini, and Sarah Kirkland Snider, and the performance will be supplemented with talks by librettists Rick Moody, Brenda Shaughnessy, and Royce Vavrek.

FERUS concludes on January 9 with a record release party for composer, producer, interdisciplinary performer, and NS curator Sxip Shirey’s new album A Bottle of Whiskey and a Handful of Bees, released on the in-house VIA Records label. The album is a daringly eclectic collection of songs featuring an array of musical collaborators, two of whom will join Shirey onstage at NS: R&B singer Xavier and singer-songwriter Rhiannon Giddens, the frontwoman of folk outfit Carolina Chocolate Drops. Shirey describes the new release as “an album of sharp adulthood, of screaming yearning alongside realistic expectations. … Eventually, all a person can do is stamp the floor and shake the ceiling.”

Concert series

The composer portrait series Philip Glass @ 80 begins this winter with two programs, co-presented with Orange Mountain Music and the World Music Institute, respectively. First, on February 24, pianist Maki Namekawa will perform Glass’s complete set of etudes for piano. The second concert, also presented under the auspices of the “Cultural Dialogues” segment of NS’s Spring Revolution, features Gambian composer, oral historian and kora virtuoso Foday Musa Suso, along with Glass himself (March 12). Later in the spring the series will conclude with Glass’s Madrigal Opera, directed by artist-in-residence R.B. Schlather.

The Stone Commissioning Series brings The Stone to Brooklyn in a monthly series curated by John Zorn, whose Bagatelles provided the material for a ten-hour marathon concert this fall. In collaboration with The Stone, National Sawdust is proud to present a monthly curatorial series of performances featuring newly commissioned work by some of the most exciting and creative composer/performers in New York. The series kicks off on January 25 with John Zorn, and continues on February 22 with Matt Mitchell, and on March 29 with Nicole Mitchell.

The National Sawdust+ series brings artists and thinkers together for stimulating, and often unexpected, concerts and conversations. This winter’s first NS+ Concert (the second of the season) features host/curator Maria Popova, the Bulgarian writer behind the blog “BrainPickings,” who celebrates her cultural and personal heroes with singer-songwriters Dawn Landes, Warren Malone, and Morley; 13-year-old guitarist Gibson Malone; and Mohammed Fairouz, who has written a new piece in collaboration with Popova (Jan 27). Then acclaimed Brooklyn-based artist and filmmaker Mickalene Thomas turns her gaze from her arresting, often glittering and provocative mixed-media work to present /’entrəpē/ , a collaboration of music and art with three-time Grammy award-winning jazz musician Terri Lyne Carrington. Carrington has performed with luminaries such as Stan Getz and Herbie Hancock, as well as collaborating with Natalie Cole, Cassandra Wilson, Esperanza Spalding and others on her female-driven Mosaic Project recordings. Their collaborative tête-à-tête will consist of a video by Thomas accompanied by Carrington’s live performance of new and adapted original works, inspired by Thomas’s artistry. The event will include a conversation and audience Q&A (Feb 28). Created by Elena Park, the NS+ series 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 the musicians and composers they admire. NS+ Concerts have been curated and hosted by artists such as Julie Taymor, Michael Mayer, and Jad Abumrad while NS+ Talks have featured Marina Abramovic + Laurie Anderson and Waltraud Meier + Patti Smith.

NS’s second concert of the season in the “Bridging the Gap” series takes place on January 22, featuring teacher and student pairings from the Yale School of Music. The third, as discussed above, takes place on March 5, when the music of Paola Prestini and her mentors John Zorn and Philip Glass will be performed by cellist Jeffrey Zeigler.


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.

PROTOTYPE – deemed “the go-to spot for brilliantly produced new indie chamber opera” (Wall Street Journal) – presents two productions at NS as part of its 2017 lineup. First up, with four performances (Jan 13 & 14), is the New York premiere of M. Lamar’s multimedia piece Funeral Doom Spiritual for male soprano, piano and electronics. Drawing on the apocalyptic themes often found in Negro Spirituals, this music-theatre work traces legacies of racial violence while longing for a better world. In keeping with that apocalyptic theme, earlier in the day on January 14 is a work-in-progress concert performance of the opera REV. 23, composed by Trinity Church Wall Street’s Director of Music, Julian Wachner, to a libretto by Cerise Jacobs. A comic addition to the Book of Revelation, Jacobs’s story asks whether, in the paradise-on-earth promised at the end of history by the Bible’s last book, human beings could ever be truly happy or even truly human.

Beth Morrison Projects, in residence at NS this season and the co-producer of PROTOTYPE, also presents Ted Hearne’s Sound from the Bench on February 3, a setting of deft appropriations by Philadelphia poet Jena Osman from ventriloquism handbooks and Supreme Court justices. Collaborators include the new music chamber choir The Crossing, conducted by Donald Nally, with guitarists Taylor Levine and James Moore and percussionist Ron Wiltrout.

March brings two more opera productions to NS, beginning with Opera on Tap’s presentation of a performance by the 20th- and 21st-century chamber music collective The Curiosity Cabinet, founded by composer and conductor Whitney George (March 8). Combining 20 instrumentalists with six singers, Curiosity Cabinet’s interdisciplinary thematic performances champion new works by living composers through an immersive drama of sounds, images and gestures.

On March 10, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell famously communicated for the first time by electronic means, prosaically declaring to his lab assistant: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” Commemorating that momentous event in the history of communication on the 140th anniversary of the very date it took place, NS presents A Mouth is Not for Talking: La voix humaine/The Burning Harp. Poulenc’s monodrama for soprano, La voix humaine, which consists in large part of a telephone conversation between a woman and her former lover, receives a reflective update in this performance, in which it will be paired with the world premiere of songs from Forrest Pierce’s The Burning Harp on texts of Rumi. Soprano Laura Bohn and pianist Mila Henry perform the works, with direction by Mary Birnbaum and projection design by Hannah Wasileski.


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. National Sawdust’s new curators this season include Timo Andres, the composer-pianist recently named as a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist, who presents a “family band” of Becca Stevens, Gabriel Kahane, Ted Hearne, Nathan Koci, Taylor Levine, and himself, with the performance centered on his song cycle Work Songs (March 18). Caroline Polachek, best known as the lead singer of Chairlift and writer-producer of “No Angel,” a Grammy-nominated hit single for Beyoncé, is another new curator, giving two performances (Feb 23 & 24). And NS curator Sxip Shirey presents two artists this winter: Baby Dee, an enchanting song writer, classically trained harpist, circus sideshow veteran, and West Side street legend (Feb 23), and Trevor Wishart, a former composer-in-residence at England’s Durham University. Wishart’s evening-length Encounters in the Republic of Heaven is an eight-channel surround-sound piece based on speaking voices recorded in the North East of England, combining portraits of individual speakers (accompanied by sounds and imaginary instruments derived from the voices themselves) with computer animation (March 25).

Several of last season’s curators also return for concerts this winter: vocalist Theo Bleckmann presents Icelandic composer and bassist Skuli Sverrisson (Feb 2), and acclaimed cellist Jeffrey Zeigler presents the Michael Gordon Bassoon Group (Jan 26). Another returning curator is Chris Grymes from Open G Records, who presents a concert with composer Eric Nathan and pianist Molly Morkoski (Jan 25). National Sawdust also collaborates with Open G and Access Contemporary Music this winter for “Late Night @ National Sawdust, Vol. 1,” the first edition of a quarterly concert series airing live on Relevant Tones, the world’s only weekly syndicated contemporary music radio program. The evening features a pre-broadcast open reading session in which Open G musicians will read through works received through a call for scores (Jan 20). More than 600 scores have been received to date from composers around the world, of which four will be chosen for live readings, and one or two more may be featured on the next broadcast.

Other performances

Other artists performing at NS this winter include British concert pianist James Rhodes, whose six albums have all topped the iTunes classical charts (Feb 4 & 8); the Attacca Quartet, playing the complete quartet works of composer Michael Ippolito in a release event for an Azica Records album of the same material (Feb 19); award-winning film, TV and Broadway composer and music supervisor Josh Green with his Cyborg Orchestra (March 2); a performance of Sarah Kirkland Snider’s Unremembered, featuring The Knights, Padma Newsome, Shara Nova and DM Stith (March 14); and Gabriel Kahane, performing his popular and notorious song cycle Craigslistlieder and other works (March 16). Visual artist, designer, director, and co-founder of Giants Are Small, Doug Fitch – last seen at National Sawdust as director/designer of Orphic Moments, starring Anthony Roth Costanzo – turns NS into a gallery of living art with Doug Fitch’s Art Gallery Variety Show (March 3). Group-in-residence 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), presents a concert titled “The Evolution of Song,” which includes two new National Sawdust commissions from David Biedenbender and Gabriella Smith (Feb 5). And at the end of March, NS hosts two concerts presented by Ed Helms’s Bluegrass Situation, a collective that looks for ways to innovate and modernize a genre that has been around for generations, seeking new ways to merge an old tradition with new technologies.

As the orchestra celebrates its 175th anniversary season, the New York Philharmonic’s CONTACT! series returns to National Sawdust on January 23 with two programs focusing on composers who have called New York home. With music by revered figures like Elliott Carter and Jacob Druckman, major voices of today such as David Lang and Steven Mackey, and younger composers like Zosha Di Castri and David Fulmer, CONTACT! presents a snapshot of New York music of the past, present and future.

Contemporary music string quartet ETHEL presents “ETHEL’s HomeBaked Project” at NS on March 8. A long-term commissioning project begun in 2010, ETHEL’s HomeBaked Project focuses on emerging NYC-based composers, and has already yielded eight compositions, many of which have entered the quartet’s repertoire. Homebaked Round III composers Olga Bell, Avi Granite, Sarah Lipstate, and Kyle Tieman-Strauss have delivered new works for this world premiere performance at National Sawdust.

Finally, on March 15, NS regular Joel Harrison curates an evening of guitar with the DITHER guitar quartet; Steve Mackey and Jason Treuting, presenting excerpts from the new guitar opera Orpheus Unsung; the debut of the Resophonic Guitar Orchestra led by Joel Harrison, with Elliot Sharp, Brandon Ross, DITHER, and more; and trumpeter Steven Bernstein with three iconic and legendary guitarists.

Critically acclaimed venue

As critics have been 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.”

National Sawdust’s very first Discovery Membership program is offering 20% off its Explorer and Pioneer level memberships this holiday season. To learn more about the benefits and perks, email the NS membership concierge team at [email protected].

National Sawdust: winter presentations

FERUS Festival

Jan 5, 10pm
M is Black Enough
Roger Bonair-Agard, poet; Andy Akiho, composer and percussion; Jeffrey Zeigler, cello; Sean Dixon, drums

Jan 6, 7pm
Rebecca Fischer: “The Afield”
Nelson Patton: Dave Nelson, trombone and electronics; Marlon Patton, drums and Moog synth bass; Lonnie Holley, vocals

Jan 6, 10pm
Yuka Honda: Revert to Sea
Dedicated to Ryu Murakami
With Nels Cline, Alex Cline, Zeena Parkins, and Devin Hoff

Jan 7, 7pm
Helga Davis and Davóne Tines: Requiem for a Tuesday
With Marc Cary, piano; PUBLIQuartet, strings; Reggie “Regg-Roc” Gray and the D.R.E.A.M. Ring

Jan 8, 4pm
“Mass Reimaginings Showcase”
The Choir of Trinity Wall Street; NOVUS NY / Julian Wachner

Jan 9, 7pm
Record Release
Sxip Shirey: A Bottle of Whiskey and a Handful of Bees

Jan 13 & 14, 7pm & 10pm (four shows)
PROTOTYPE presents M. Lamar’s Funeral Doom Spiritual
For male soprano, piano, and electronics
In partnership with Beth Morrison Projects

Jan 14, 3pm
PROTOTYPE presents REV. 23
Julian Wachner, composer; Cerise Lim Jacobs, librettist
In partnership with Beth Morrison Projects

Jan 20, 10pm
Late Night @ National Sawdust, Vol. 1
Collaboration with Open G Records

Jan 22, 4pm
“Bridging the Gap”
Featuring students and teachers from Yale School of Music

Jan 23, 7:30pm
New York Philharmonic’s CONTACT! New Music Series

Jan 25, 7pm
Chris Grymes presents Eric Nathan, composer and Molly Morkoski, pianist

Jan 25, 10pm
Stone Commissioning Project curated by John Zorn
John Zorn, composer

Jan 26, 7pm
Jeff Zeigler presents Michael Gordon Bassoon Group

Jan 27, 7:30pm
National Sawdust+
Maria Popova, host/curator
With Dawn Landes, Warren Malone, Morley, Gibson Malone, and Mohammed Fairouz

Jan 28, 10pm
The Revolution
Independent Pop Concert
Featuring Katy Luck, singer/songwriter; Krychek, electronic producer/synth songwriter; Kala & The Lost Tribe, soul/hiphop ensemble

Jan 29, 4pm
Ritz Chamber Series, Vol. 1

Feb 2, 7pm
Theo Bleckmann presents Skuli Sverrisson, composer/bassist

Feb 3, 7pm
Beth Morrison Projects presents Sound From the Bench
Ted Hearne, composer
With Taylor Levine, guitar; James Moore, guitar; Ron Wiltrout, percussion; The Crossing; and Donald Nally, conductor

Feb 4 & 8, 7pm
James Rhodes, pianist

Feb 5, 3pm
yMusic: The Evolution of Song

Feb 19, 7pm
Attacca Quartet: Recently Added
Featuring the complete works for string quartet of composer Michael Ippolito

Feb 22, 7pm
Stone Commissioning Project curated by John Zorn
Matt Mitchell, composer/jazz pianist

Feb 23, 7pm
Sxip’s Hour Of Charm featuring Baby Dee, song writer/harpist

Feb 23, 10pm & Feb 24, 10:30pm
Caroline Polachek, vocalist/multi-instrumentalist/composer

Feb 24, 7pm
Philip Glass @ 80
The Complete Etudes with Maki Namekawa
Co-presented with Orange Mountain Music

Feb 26, 7pm
Eva León performs chamber works of Joaquín Rodrigo; release party for album of Rodrigo’s Chamber Works for Violin

Feb 28, 7:30pm
National Sawdust+
Mickalene Thomas, host/curator

March 1, 7pm
Amanda Gookin: The Forward Music Project

March 2, 7pm
Magos Herrera presents “Women in Music: A Tribute to Mercedes Sosa”

March 2, 10pm
Josh Green and the Cyborg Orchestra

March 3, 7pm
Doug Fitch’s Art Gallery Variety Show

March 5, 7pm
“Bridging the Gap”
Works by Paola Prestini, John Zorn, and Philip Glass
Performed by Jeffrey Zeigler, cello

March 8, 7pm
ETHEL’s HomeBaked Project

March 8, 10pm
Opera on Tap presents The Curiosity Cabinet

March 10, 7pm
A Mouth is Not for Talking: La voix humaine/The Burning Harp
Francis Poulenc/Jean Cocteau: La voix humaine, © Ed. Ricordi S.A.
Forrest Pierce/Rumi: The Burning Harp
Laura Bohn, soprano; Mila Henry, piano; Mary Birnbaum, director; and Hannah Wasileski, projection designer

March 10, 10pm
Madame Gandhi, percussion;
With Bohan Phoenix and Bush Tea

March 12, 7pm
Philip Glass @ 80
Philip Glass and Foday Musa Suso
Co-presented with World Music Institute

March 14, 7pm
Sarah Kirkland Snider: Unremembered
With The Knights, Padma Newsome, Shara Nova, and DM Stith

March 15, 7pm
Joel Harrison
With DITHER guitar quartet; Steve Mackey and Jason Treuting; The Resophonic Guitar Orchestra led by Joel Harrison (debut); and Steven Bernstein, trumpet

March 16, 7pm
Gabriel Kahane, singer/songwriter
Craigslistlieder and other works

March 17
Pussy Riot

March 18, 7pm
Timo Andres presents Work Songs
Featuring Becca Stevens, Gabriel Kahane, Ted Hearne, Nathan Koci, and Taylor Levine

March 19, 11am brunch; 4pm festival
Nowruz Festival
Featuring Persian music, dance, food, and discussion

March 21, 7pm
Big Ears Festival and NS co-present Nils Økland, fiddle

March 25, 7pm
Sxip Shirey presents Trevor Wishart, composer
Trevor Wishart: Encounters in the Republic of Heaven

March 25, 10pm
Rudresh Mahanthappa: “Bird Calls”

March 29, 7pm
Stone Commissioning Project curated by John Zorn
Nicole Mitchell, composer/flute

March 30, 7pm
Lukas Ligeti
Works and artists TBD

March 31, 7pm
Jake Heggie
Vocalists perform works by Jake Heggie

March TBD
Ed Helms’s Bluegrass Situation

#             #             #

© 21C Media Group, November 2016

Return to Press Room