National Sawdust New Works Commission

2020 Digital Discovery Festival

National Sawdust is pleased to announce the 2020 New Works Commission winners!

National Sawdust announces twenty commissions, of $3,000 each, from its Digital Discovery Festival open call commission for emerging composers residing or working in the United States. The commissions include more than just financial support to compose new music — they include mentorship designed to cultivate the evolving entrepreneurial skills and new ways of thinking that artists must integrate into their livelihoods in these unprecedented times. The composers will be trained by National Sawdust staff to develop skills specific to sharing their work digitally such as working with film producers and sound designers.

The commissions will be premiered by either JACK Quartet or members of the National Sawdust Ensemble. Composers will receive a video of their composition’s performance to use when promoting their own work.

Winning composers met two of the following three criteria: they have received no prior commissions of $7,000 or more, they have no major commercially-released full album recordings, and there have been no prior major performances of their work by a professional ensemble in the United States, outside of multi-billed concerts and a university setting. 

The Digital Discovery Festival New Works Commissions are generously supported by the Alphadyne Foundation.

JACK Quartet Competition Winners

National Sawdust Ensemble Competition Winners


Marcos Balter. Praised by The Chicago Tribune as “minutely crafted” and “utterly lovely,” The New York Times as “whimsical” and “surreal,” and The Washington Post as “dark and deeply poetic,” the music of Brazilian composer Marcos Balter is at once emotionally visceral and intellectually complex, primarily rooted in experimental manipulations of timbre and hyper-dramatization of live performance. Recent performances include a Miller Theatre Composer Portrait in 2018 and appearances at Carnegie Hall, Köln Philharmonie, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Lincoln Center, and Walt Disney Hall. Past honors include fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and the Tanglewood Music Center (Leonard Bernstein Fellow) as well as commissions from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony MusicNOW, Meet the Composer, Fromm Foundation at Harvard, The Holland/America Music Society, The MacArthur Foundation, and the Art Institute of Chicago. His works are published by PSNY (Schott), and commercial recordings of his music are available through New Amsterdam Records, New Focus Recordings, Parlour Tapes+, and Navona Records. He currently lives in New York City, is an Associate Professor of Music Composition at Montclair State University, and was recently appointed to the UC San Diego Department of Music’s Composition Faculty. For more information, visit the composer's official website at

Paola Prestini has collaborated with poets, filmmakers, and scientists in large-scale multimedia works that chart her interest in extra-musical themes ranging from the cosmos to the environment. Her compositions have been commissioned by and performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Barbican Centre, Cannes Film Festival, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Opera, Roomful of Teeth, Choir of Trinity Wall Street, and Young People’s Chorus of New York City, among others. Upcoming projects include the opera Edward Tulane (Minnesota Opera), the chamber opera Sensorium Ex (Atlanta Opera and Beth Morrison Projects Prototype Festival), the foley chamber opera Silent Light (Banff’s Opera in the 21st Century), a piano concerto for Awadagin Pratt and A Far Cry, a piano concerto for Lara Downes and the Louisville Symphony, Oregon Bach Festival, and Ravinia, and music for The Amazon, a documentary and arts event (recently screened at the Margaret Mead Film Festival at the Museum of Natural History). She is the co-founder and artistic director of the Brooklyn based arts institution and incubator, National Sawdust, and as part of her commitment to the next generation and equity, she started the Hildegard Competition for emerging female, trans, and non-binary composers and the Blueprint Fellowship for emerging composers with The Juilliard School. She was a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow and a Sundance Fellow, and was a graduate of the Juilliard School.

Ellen Reid is one of the most innovative artists of her generation. A composer and sound artist whose breadth of work spans opera, sound design, film scoring, ensemble and choral writing, she was awarded the the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her opera, p r i s m. Along with composer Missy Mazzoli, Ellen co-founded the Luna Composition Lab. Luna Lab is a mentorship program for young, female-identifying, non-binary, and gender non-conforming composers. Since the fall of 2019, she has served as Creative Advisor and Composer-in-Residence for Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

Ellen received her BFA from Columbia University and her MA from California Institute of the Arts. She is inspired by music from all over the globe, and she splits her time between her two favorite cities – Los Angeles and New York. Her music is released on Decca Gold.

Steve Smith has been involved professionally in music and media for more than 30 years, and personally for even longer. Closely associated with contemporary music and living composers, Smith writes regularly for The New Yorker and The New York Times. He recently relaunched his long-running, ASCAP Award-winning blog, Night After Night, as a subscription-based newsletter (, publishing news, interviews, and reviews twice weekly. Among prior positions, Smith most recently was the inaugural director of publications for the Brooklyn-based concert venue and performing-arts incubator National Sawdust. He served as the editor and lead writer for National Sawdust Log (2016-20), a respected online journal of music journalism and criticism that showcased writing by well-established professionals and gifted emerging writers alike. The Log was recognized for support by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, attesting to the quality the publication achieved during its brief existence. 

Smith previously served as an assistant arts editor at the Boston Globe (2014-16), directing coverage of classical and popular music and the visual arts at that esteemed newspaper. As a freelance critic and reporter for The New York Times (2007-14), Smith contributed multiple articles and reviews weekly. At Time Out New York (2001-14), he initially handled classical music coverage, providing many now-prominent new-music artists and organizations with their initial coverage, and eventually assumed oversight for all of the magazine’s music coverage. Smith has embraced an uncommonly broad stylistic range in his music coverage, which has appeared in the Washington Post, Village Voice, Billboard, Musical America, New Music Box, Jazziz, JazzTimes, DownBeat, The Wire, Signal to Noise [RIP], Chamber Music, Symphony, Decibel, and other publications. Along with his work as a writer and editor, he has extensive experience in public relations, radio broadcasting, and public interviewing. Smith trained formally as a percussionist, and put his studies to work with jazz groups in San Antonio, rock bands in Houston and New York, and the Long Island Gilbert & Sullivan Society. He lives in Queens with his wife, the journalist and scholar Lara Pellegrinelli, their daughter, and two charismatic dogs.

Pamela Z is a composer/performer and media artist who works primarily with voice, live electronic processing, sampled sound, and video. A pioneer of live digital looping techniques, she processes her voice in real time to create dense, complex sonic layers. Her solo works combine experimental extended vocal techniques, operatic bel canto, found objects, text, digital processing, and wireless MIDI controllers that allow her to manipulate sound with physical gestures. In addition to her solo work, she has been commissioned to compose scores for dance, theatre, film, and chamber ensembles including Kronos Quartet, Eighth Blackbird, the Bang on a Can All Stars, Ethel, and San Francisco Contemporary Music Players. Her interdisciplinary performance works have been presented at venues including The Kitchen (NY), Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (SF), REDCAT (LA), and MCA (Chicago), and her installations have been presented at such exhibition spaces as the Whitney (NY), the Diözesanmuseum (Cologne), and the Krannert (IL). Pamela Z has toured extensively throughout the US, Europe, and Japan. She has performed in numerous festivals including Bang on a Can (New York), Interlink (Japan), Other Minds (San Francisco), La Biennale di Venezia (Italy), Dak’Art (Sénégal) and Pina Bausch Tanztheater Festival (Wuppertal, Germany). She’s a recipient of numerous awards including the Rome Prize, United States Artists, a Robert Rauschenberg Foundation residency, the Guggenheim, the Doris Duke Artist Impact Award, Herb Alpert Award, an Ars Electronica honorable mention, and the NEA Japan/US Friendship Commission Fellowship. She holds a music degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder.


Jeffrey Zeigler is one of the most innovative and versatile cellists of our time. He has been described as “fiery”, and a player who performs “with unforced simplicity and beauty of tone” by The New York Times. Acclaimed for his independent streak, Zeigler has commissioned dozens of works, and is admired as a potent collaborator and unique improviser. Zeigler is the recipient of the Avery Fisher Prize, the Polar Music Prize, the President’s Merit Award from the National Academy of Recorded Arts (GRAMMYs), the Chamber Music America National Service Award and The Asia Society's Cultural Achievement Award.

Zeigler’s multifaceted career has led to collaborations and tours with a wide array of artists from Yo-Yo Ma and Roomful of Teeth to Tanya Tagaq and Hauschka, and from Philip Glass and John Corigliano to Laurie Anderson and John Zorn. He has also performed as a soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Royal Danish Radio Symphony and the Ulster Orchestra under the batons of JoAnn Falletta, Dennis Russell Davies, Peter Oundjian and Dmitry Sitkovetsky. Mr. Zeigler has released dozens of recordings for Nonesuch Records, Deutsche Grammophon, Cantaloupe and Smithsonian Folkways and has appeared with Norah Jones on her album Not Too Late on Blue Note Records. Zeigler can also be heard on the film soundtrack for Paolo Sorrentino’s Academy Award winning film, La Grande Bellezza, as well as Clint Mansell’s Golden Globe-nominated soundtrack to the Darren Aronofsky film, The Fountain. Zeigler can also be seen making an on screen cameo performing the music of Paola Prestini in Season 4 of the Amazon Prime Golden Globe Award-winning series Mozart in the Jungle. As a champion of interdisciplinary collaboration, Zeigler is the cellist of the vocal punk band (M)iyamoto is Black Enough alongside slam poetry champion Roger Bonair-Agard, Rome Prize recipient Andy Akiho and drummer Sean Dixon. Zeigler is also featured in a new cello opera entitled Old Man and the Sea directed by Karmina Šilec with music by Paola Prestini and libretto by Royce Vavrek.

Jeffrey Zeigler was the cellist of the internationally renowned Kronos Quartet for eight seasons. During his tenure, Zeigler had the opportunity to collaborate with a wide range of luminaries from Henryk Górecki and Steve Reich to Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Tom Waits.

National Sawdust Ensemble (NSE), led by cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, is a Pierrot + instrumentation ensemble, and a natural culmination of musicians that have performed countless times at National Sawdust. Members from the National Sawdust Ensemble include Miranda Cuckson, violin, Jeffrey Zeigler, cello, Ian Rosenbaum, percussion, Allison Loggins-Hull, flute, Chris Grymes, clarinet, and Stephen Gosling, piano. A new music pierrot ensemble with flexible orchestration and wide-ranging music skills, their mission is to give composers and artists access to the high caliber of musicianship that is native to National Sawdust. 

Hailed by The New York Times as the “our leading new-music foursome”, the JACK Quartet is one of the most acclaimed, renowned, and respected groups performing today. JACK has maintained an unwavering commitment toward performing and commissioning new works, giving voice to underheard composers, and cultivating an ever-greater sense of openness toward contemporary classical music. Over the past season, they have been selected as Musical America’s 2018 “Ensemble of the Year”, named to WQXR’s “19 for 19 Artists to Watch”, and awarded an Avery Fisher Career Grant.

Through intimate relationships with today’s most creative voices, JACK embraces close collaboration with the composers they perform, leading to a radical embodiment of the technical, musical, and emotional aspects of their work. The quartet has worked with artists such as George Lewis, Julia Wolfe, Helmut Lachenmann, Chaya Czernowin, Philip Glass, and many more.

JACK is comprised of violinists Christopher Otto and Austin Wulliman, violist John Pickford Richards, and cellist Jay Campbell. 

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