National Sawdust Announces Wide-ranging Interdisciplinary 2018/2019 Season

Terry Riley; Gavina Rayna Russom

Terry Riley; Gavina Rayna Russom

With its largest and most diverse group of residencies, curators, and series to date, National Sawdust – the music incubator and venue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn – announced highlights of its fourth groundbreaking season, featuring a mix of veteran and emerging artists, festivals, and cross-genre collaborations. 

Providing a crucial platform for artists underrepresented by mainstream institutions, National Sawdust’s new season features the premiere or development of more than 25 new works, allowing audiences unprecedented access to bold new music and innovative creative voices.

Highlights from the season include:

  • A fundraiser, featuring a roster of luminaries from across the artistic spectrum, for opera legend Jessye Norman’s new project, Sissieretta Jones, an immersive operatic experience exploring the life of the first African American to sing at Carnegie Hall, co-produced by National Sawdust Projects.
  • The season-opening weekend featuring the world premiere collaboration between pioneer composer Terry Riley, recognized for his “brightly insistent music” (New York Times), and LCD Soundsystem analogue “synth wizard” (NPRGavina Rayna Russom (September 15).
  • Cuban composer Tania León, who has “played an active role in shaping American musical life” (New York Times), and composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, who channels “everything from Bach to Gladys Knight” (NPR), joining National Sawdust as Curators spotlighting the role of race and gender in music.
  • Joan Tower and Friends, a concert co-presented by Chris Grymes in honor of Joan Tower’s 80th birthday, featuring an afternoon of curation by the Grammy-winning contemporary composer and exclusively comprising works by female composers, including Jennifer HigdonTania León, and Julia Wolfe (November 11).
  • Film Stills, a new project developed at National Sawdust featuring opera singer Eve Gigliotti presenting original pieces by Du Yun, Missy Mazzoli, Nico Muhly, Paola Prestini and others, inspired by photographer Cindy Sherman’s series Untitled Film Stills (Spring 2019); and avant-garde cellist Amanda Gookin’s Forward Music Project 2.0, presenting new works by six female composers that address issues such as sex positivity, trans rights, and gender non-conformity (Spring 2019).
  • National Sawdust’s Artists-in-Residence program, presenting twelve new artists and works, including a new composition by Trinity Wall Street Music Director Julian Wachner performed by the Aizuri Quartet; the premiere of award-winning composer Angélica Negrón’s new drag opera, Chimera; composer Julia Adolphe’s new comedic opera, A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears; and more.
  • NationalSawdust+, the performance and conversation series curated by Elena Park, which returns with directors Gary Ross and Claudia Solti, opera star Joyce DiDonato, Olympic figure skater Sasha CohenEmily Nemens (of the Paris Review) and Chris Jackson (of One World); plus the debut of PaulMuldoon's new literary-music series, Against the Grain, with writers Jennifer Egan and Kevin Young and electronic duo Matmos (Nov 15), presented in association with London Review of Books.
  • A concert collaboration between violinist, violist, and founding Curator of National Sawdust Miranda Cuckson, a “champion of new music” who is recognized for playing “complex works with charismatic devotion” (New York Times), and composer and pianist Michael Hersch, “one of the most prominent composers in the country, [who] writes masterly modernist music of implacable seriousness” (New Yorker) and “a natural musical genius who continues to surpass himself” (Washington Post). For over a decade, Cuckson has been one of the most trusted interpreters of Hersch’s work. Now, in a rare collaboration, Hersch joins Cuckson on stage to present selections from his oeuvre, including selections from in the snowy marginsFourteen Pieces, and more (September 18).
  • A performance entitled Art of the In-Between, created by newly announced National Sawdust Curator and “punk ballerina” Karole Armitage, a dancer, choreographer, and the Artistic Director of the New York-based Armitage Gone! Dance Company (October 20). Armitage is known for her “fiercely pure” style that “presents the performers as molten steel cooling into stunning shapes” (Village Voice). Art of the In-Between, featuring music by Fats Waller, Terry Dame, Wyclef Jean and more, celebrates Mexico’s rich mixture of indigenous and European cultures, with two original dance pieces: Día de los Muertos – a joyful, subversive comedy of screwball surrealism for a gang of dancing skeletons – and Donkey Jaw Bone – a piece inspired by the theatrical Mexican wrestling form Lucha Libre and accompanied by pre-Columbian instruments bringing the penetrating sounds of Nahuatl music to the stage.

Paola Prestini, composer, co-founder and artistic director of National Sawdust, explained, “The music in Season Four includes National Sawdust’s trademark blend of veteran composers and discovery artists, mentorship, and a deep sense of rigor across styles. We are in a true golden age of new music, and I believe it is the responsibility of venues, curators, and lovers of the performing arts to stand behind the artists who ignite this creativity.”

Open Night Concert

Season Four officially kicks off with a night devoted to new music from minimalist composer Terry Riley, celebrated as a "pioneering American composer" and "guru of American music" (New York Times), and a founding artistic advisory board member of National Sawdust. On Saturday, September 15 at 7 p.m., Riley will share the stage with Trinity Wall Street’s renowned ensembles NOVUS NY and The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, led by “viscerally dramatic” (New York Times) composer-conductor and National Sawdust Artist-in-Residence Julian Wachner, to perform Madrigal (2015), Archangels(2003), and Remember This, O Mind (1997). Then, at 10 p.m., the revered composer will share the stage with Gavin Rayna Russom for an otherworldly, improvised collaborative performance.


Three major National Sawdust Festivals, lasting anywhere from a day to a week and focused on a central theme, take place over the course of the 2018-19 season. On October 6, the Resonator Festival will showcase the sounds of hip-hop, R&B, soul, and rock with collaborations between up-and-coming local artists and more established names. In January, National Sawdust will host the annual FERUS Festival, celebrating new voices in new music. And in the spring, National Sawdust presents the second annual Pan Asia Music Festival, curated by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Du Yun.

Season Highlights

The following is a list of highlight events for the season. For the most up-to-date event listings and times, visit The National Sawdust Calendar page.