With just under a month to go until National Sawdust opens Classical:NEXT in Rotterdam, now feels like a great time to reflect on the program we’ve curated for our first international outing. The opening concert, Hear It New!, highlights the breadth of National Sawdust’s work with composers, performers, filmmakers and designers, demonstrating the potential for true collaboration to create boundary-pushing new music which is relevant to our society. The program highlights artists from our close community of Artists-in-Residence; composers participating in our mentorship initiatives; and artists who we are commissioning to create large-scale works that I am producing as part of our National Sawdust Projects program.
Forward Music Project, by cellist Amanda Gookin, is a work I am personally really excited about. Over the past two years as an Artist-in-Residence at National Sawdust, Amanda has commissioned twelve composers to write pieces about their experience of being a woman. Representative, inclusive and diverse, the voices and stories in each composition are ones which need to be heard. Amplified by Amanda’s energy and dexterity on stage, and enhanced by the artworks of her collaborator, projection artist S Katy Tucker, this ongoing body of work is touring as a National Sawdust Project.
Amanda, Katy, and I recently returned from a performance at Kennedy Center’s DIRECT CURRENT festival in Washington DC, and have an upcoming trip to The Wallis Annenberg Center in Beverly Hills,California. We’ve also just begun a program inspired by the project for middle school music and art students in our neighborhood to collaborate and create their own pieces which will be performed at National Sawdust in June. The potential for Forward Music Project to grow and really make an impact is huge, so we’re excited to present one piece at Classical:NEXT for international audiences. On May 15 in Rotterdam, audiences will hear To Tell A Story, written by composer, Artistic Director and Co-Founder of National Sawdust, Paola Prestini. Paola began writing this work during the Kavanaugh hearings. It is underscored by Susan Sontag’s words on storytelling and features sound design by Sxip Shirey.
National Sawdust is also amplifying the music of women, non-binary, and trans composers in our annual Hildegard Competition, and we are excited to present 2018 winner Emma O’Halloran’s piece Constellations in an international collaboration with musicians from Rotterdam’s DoelenEnsemble. When writing this piece, Emma was inspired by a National Geographic article focusing on the discovery that handprints in ancient cave art most often belonged to women.
Storytelling is something that we are passionate about at National Sawdust, and the newly commissioned short film Kipatsi, Nija, Añaantsi (Land, Water, Life) does this with cinematic beauty. Featuring members of the indigenous Ashaninka community who inhabit the Amazon basin, the short film highlights the threat of government-led dam projects in Peru, and how these projects are damaging the environment and way-of-life for the people who live there. The film’s Director, Murat Eyuboglu, plans for this short to be featured in the film festival circuit next year, and we’re also sharing this resource with the community so they can raise awareness and amplify their voices on this important and urgent issue which is threatening their lives. Composer and violinist Pauchi Sasaki is scoring the film as we speak, and I cannot wait to hear what she has created when she performs it live in May. We have big plans to fully commission a 90-minute documentary, The Amazon, so this short film is a small step towards us realizing that vision.
The concert will open with a suggestion from our collaborators at Classical:NEXT – The World Wide Tuning Meditation – a Deep Listening exercise developed by the late Pauline Oliveros. We are so lucky that artist Ione, spouse of Oliveros, has agreed to lead this for us all to participate. Our hope is that this exercise prepares the audience, with ears and mind wide open, to fully experience and engage in the rest of the evening, and the conference itself. I hope everyone who attends Hear It New! at Classical:NEXT leaves curious, ready to make new musical discoveries, and feels inspired by our ideals of how art can be used to amplify all voices and act as a catalyst for social change.
We’ve been lucky to tour various works and initiatives this season throughout the USA, but being in Europe is a first for us. With National Sawdust Projects, we have a range of interdisciplinary and multimedia music works which can travel anywhere around the globe, as well as projects in development which we want to find homes for in the future. For example, this week I am in workshops developing Through You, a new chamber opera work that we are producing with 2019 Pulitzer Prize winning composer Ellen Reid, Nico Muhly, Missy Mazzoli, and Paola Prestini, which will be ready to premiere in summer 2021 before touring. Classical:NEXT represents the opportunity for us to convene with the international music community as well as increasing the reach and impact of our work with artists and audiences. I’m really looking forward to seeing what future collaborations and opportunities arise from the upcoming conference so we can learn from others and also spread the word of National Sawdust.